In The Name Of Religion


ALBERT EINSTEIN

When we pick up an issue like whether religion is overrated, we are actually trying to look for an alternate which is less hyped and more efficacious. The debate instantly spurs the following questions:

 What is religion?
 How is religion so important?
 Can we do without religion?
 What is the hype all about?
 If not religion, then what?

Genesis of Religion

Perhaps it’s our consumerist mindset that provokes us to view religion – its utility and futility – in terms of rating. Religion is no goods or service which can be ‘rated’. It is a way of life. The way we think. The way we act. The way we perceive life and how it should unfold. Whatever good things that we have been brought up with and taught repeatedly traces its origin back to religion. However, here a distinction is necessitated between religion and ism. When we talk of religion we tend to equate it with either the ism that we are born into (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity etc.) or the rituals (Pooja, Vrat, Brahman Sewa, Teerath Darshan etc.) What we fail to understand is that religion is much beyond all these things and more pervasive and all-encompassing than we realize.

With the dawn of reason, the primitive men realized the strength of unity in order to survive the wrath of Nature and that of fellow humans. Men united to form tribes. To sustain cohesion and harmony within these tribes and prevent men from warring with each other and getting divided into factions religion came handy. It was used to induce fear of isolation, punishment and the inevitable end; at the same time it also introduced and encouraged the ideas of goodness, ethics, propriety and brotherhood. So for early human civilizations, religion acted as an adhesion.

ON RELIGION

Misuse of Religion

With the growth of social order and its various complexities, religion changed colour and shape. It donned the drapes of various isms, dogmas, practices and rites. And like all other human endeavor, it came to be misutilized as well.

We misuse religion when we use it as a tool to:

 Resort to fundamentalism
 Create and pursue divisive and discriminatory means
 Distort and re-create history on non-secular parameters
 Spread hatred and disunity amongst people
 Refuse to understand or respect the beliefs & concerns of fellow beings, and above all
 Use it to secure personal profits and power

AE II

Significance of Religion

Religion is a body of supreme knowledge, revelations and realizations accumulated over ages. Even though a high-powered microscope may not be able to spot it in our DNA, yet it is somewhere mapped into our genetic matrix. Whether we consciously admit or not, we cannot do without it or some form of it in our lives. And that something may or may not fall strictly within the purview of any particular ism but can definitely be what we live for and value the most. It can simply be good deeds like helping the weaker sections of society, providing those who deserve support and assistance, involvement in community service to keep the environs clean and healthy, imparting knowledge and education, shouldering familial responsibilities or simply doing your day to day jobs with great honesty and sincerity. In that sense, religion is very, very personal and your very own.

Misunderstanding Religion

Problems arise when we restrict religion to what is written in the Shastras and Scriptures which we may or may not be able to follow or assimilate ourselves in its true sense or may be influenced to understand the way these have been interpreted by others. Keeping all complex jargons aside, what we tend to forget is that the very basic aim of religion is to sustain our lives, society, this entire world and the vast cosmic creation beyond, of which we are a part and parcel, in a healthy and wholesome manner. That is what is Manav Dharma all about. This we can only do if we keep away from and discourage the spread of dissenting and destructive factors and forces which time and again crop up within and around us. So, for our own survival and sustenance, it is important that we embrace religion.

Hype about Religion

With the advent and development of modern means of communication, the globe has come to reside next door. When modern day Swamis can travel in extravagance (Mercedes and BMWs) and dedicated TV channels be aired for twenty four x seven telecasting of motivational talks by gurus and professional speakers, religion automatically comes under the spot light. Perhaps it is unavoidable. And why keep it under wraps when we need it so much? But again behind all this avoidable glamorous entrapments we have to seek the true meaning and motive. Otherwise chances are that we may be befooled and beguiled without our knowing.

The Ultimate of Religion

From time immemorial men have taken a break from day to day work and asked these questions:

•Who am I?
•For what purpose have I taken birth on this Earth?
•Where do I go when death takes over?
•Who has created me and this Universe?
•What is the sole motive behind this entire Creation?
•Do I really have a control over my Fate and Future?
•If no, then who is the Creator and Controller of my life and this entire Cosmos?

And again, it is this eternal search that has catapulted men the world over to seek the answers in religion. This search is universal – the ultimate query of every human discipline, study, research and discourse. The ways and paths are merely different. Science and History have sought these answers and Religion has provided the support. Similarly all religious beliefs have spoken the same thing over and over again albeit in different languages. There is a oneness underlying all diversities and divergences. It is we humans who have confused and contorted what is simple and lucid.

Alternate to Religion

When we debate over the relevance of religion in today’s world, it is the doubt embedded therein which comes to the fore. Religious beliefs and the way these have been preached the world over have augmented ambiguity and scepticism more than quenched our thirst for the Ultimate Truth. A seeker must never doubt. A Doubting Thomas can never come upon what he seeks. To know you have to surrender. And in unquestioned submission is reposed Knowledge Absolute, Truth Absolute and Divine Absolute. It is the only alternate to religion.

However, in order to surrender you have to eliminate the unnecessary.
In order to eliminate you have to know.
In order to know you have to perform.
In order to perform you have to believe.
In order to believe you have to practice.
In order to practice you have to take to your own religion which suits you best.

Would you still say that religion is overrated?

 

(This post is a part of Indispire’s Topic of Debate Is Religion overrated?)

 

ON RELIGION III

Kyunki Himmesss Bhai Knows


The Xpose Dard Dilo Ke Song Himesh Reshammiya, Yo Yo Honey Singh[1]Bollywood of the 60s. A glitzy film award function followed by a glam-infested cocktail party where two rival heroines (Chandni and Zara) contending for super stardom fall out with each other. Soon after the cat fight one of them is found lying dead on the rocky sea shore at the back of the hotel where the celebration is taking place. Suspects are many but who is the actual culprit need be exposed, of course, in due time.

While watching the movie Xposé, had I not been reminded of many a yester year films, novels and sensational news head-lines, I might have wholeheartedly endorsed the originality of the story-line. And that is what makes me mention a hugely forgettable and indubitably unforgivable movie in this post because it reminded me of those memorable golden classics ( in bits and pieces), be it film or book, which have time and again proven to be inerasable and unmatchable benchmarks for authors and filmmakers, book-lovers and movie-buffs alike.

Xpose is a fine example of flawed direction will be an understatement of the century. As the narration shuttles back and forth from flashback to the present and back, intermittently and cluelessly, viewers like me, can only be excused for remaining glued to the screen because of those sudden glimpses of the extraordinary strewn here and there, noticeable not by virtue of a strong script but because these seem to be straightaway lifted and punched in to make a mock-tail of a murder mystery which could have otherwise been unraveled through superlative craftsmanship had the movie been reposed in the hands of ace directors like Ramesh Sippy, Ravi Tandon, O. P. Ralhan and others of their league (Aah! the Old Is Gold tribe!).

A girl (Sonali Raut) in drunken stupor pushed out of the terrace of a hotel in the dead of the night preceded by a rowdy altercation with another (in this case, girl) is vividly reminiscent of a similar situation so brilliantly put together in Teesri Manzil, the super-duper suspense packed hit of the 60s, directed by the Alfred Hitchcock of Hindi Cinema, Vijay Anand, with trendsetting music by R.D. Burman. Vijay Anand, as I have said many times over, is one of the most underrated directors of Hindi cinema. But can Anant Mahadevan take over from where Goldie Anand left ? Not by any means.

XPOSE 3

Intended or unintended, a drunken girl staggering off a high rise and losing her life in the prime of her youth also reminds one of the unfortunate Divya Bharati case of the early 90s when the promising super-star purportedly in inebriated state lost her balance and slipped off the balcony of her fifth floor Versova apartment. It is said that she was not alone when the mishap occurred and had there not been an ulterior motive a young life could have been saved on time. As usual the matter was quickly hushed up. But rumours are still afloat…

The tinsel town, with its shades of black and grey, has always been mystifying and dangerously alluring. It is now that being elevated to the stature of an Industry, the film fraternity has come of age and employed various progressive management techniques like image makeover and brand building etc., majorly borrowed from the West, I suppose, to appear more professional and upbeat in their public profile. But it was not so earlier, in the 50s and the 60s, when professional rivalry and jealousy used to get the better of cordiality, camaraderie and sportsman spirit. Resultantly, drunken brawls, mud slinging and brick batting in public were not uncommon. Pivoting around this plot is Xpose with a horde of unremarkable and to some extent clichéd characters who are perennially insecure and suspicious of each other.

Again, at the expense of being a suspense spoiler, the actual expose of the murderer(s) strongly reminds one of Christie’s The Oriental Express, where every character on the train had a motive and an inclination to collaborate in a foolproof murder.

XPOSEM1

However, Xpose has its own bunch of spellbinders and amongst them the potentially most impactful and mesmeric is of course our own Himmesss Bhai, who in the film is a go-between super stars Rajanikanth and Rajesh Khanna. An ex-cop who takes to films because his ego is too big for his scrawny, average built, sky-rockets to super stardom in the South and now wishes to take over Bollywood by storm. A string of inexcusably gross punch-lines replete with double innuendos (which make you wonder whether you are supposed to laugh or cry) later, Himmess Bhai, the super-cop-turned-super-hero, in the final act, exposes all and sundry before the blindfolded Lady Justice. Meanwhile, he manages to not only fall in love with the many times youthful and ‘innocent’ Chandni (Zoya Afroz) but also save her ultimately from being truly exposed. Incidentally, Himmess Bhai is also the music composer of this film. Consequently, the immense injustice done to the awful lyrics is something which needs to be heard to be believed.

All said and done, as Himmess Bhai and Chandni walk arm in arm, in the last scene, stiff like a pair of bamboo sticks, the viewers are left agape puzzling out who exposed whom and how! And long after the film is over, resonates behind an uncanny nagging feeling that there was more to be exposed which was left unexposed and it could have been more fulfilling had the audience been left to decide who should have exposed whom and why!!

Confused? So was I and greatly thankful for the “The End” which took one hour and twenty odd minutes to appear on the screen.

Over A Virtual Cup Of Coffee : With Vimala Ramu


and-she-waited-60-years-a-novella-400x400-imaduvfj77vjkaqc[1]I know Vimala Ramu since when? But that is immaterial. What is important is that I have been tailing her around the blogosphere from time immemorial, or so it seems. The wit, humour and spark in her writing elevated her blogs to something more than mere leisurely scribbles. More than once I have been struck by her ingenuity which has always proved to be an alternate perspective finer than a mere smart move. The septuagenarian, in her own inimitable style, has always presented an approach to life which has been novel and inspiring.

When “Colors”, an anthology of her blogs, followed the trilogy (“Rain Song”, “Dew Drops” and “Wind Chimes”) with which she had debuted into the world of printed publication, I did not waste time to grab the same. And thank God I did as never had I come across such a delightful potpourri of impish humour and witty take on life! To say “Colors” was enjoyable would be an understatement. It was therapeutic.

So, when Vimala gave me an inkling of what was coming next out of her vast booty of experiences my antennae cocked up and remained so till I received a complimentary copy of the novella “And She Waited For Sixty Years”!!!

Beautiful Aradhana falls in love with Ajay. Being from a conservative family she is not able to express her feelings for him. In due course of time Aradhana is married to Vinod – an idea life partner, understanding, caring and supportive. It’s a marriage made in heavens. While Aradhana’s loyalty towards her husband is faultless yet she often dreams of Ajay and wonders what her life would have been if she were married to him. Life takes its own course for Aradhana, Ajay and Vinod and it is after sixty years of fulfilling married life, Aradhana discloses to Ajay that he was her first love. Not exactly a run of the mill story based on an unusual subject exacting a lot from the readers in terms of acceptance of a candid and unseasonal confession of love at first sight.

 The acknowledgment in the very beginning of the book humbled me. My contribution to the novella, in my opinion, was minimal. But what augured an interview was not gratitude but a whole lot of curiosity and an irresistible urge to get into the mind of the authoress who could conceptualize a theme so different and structurize a plot so engaging on the same.

I delayed not a moment more to invite Vimala to a virtual cup of steaming, hot , chikodi coffee and take advantage of this opportunity to elicit from the authoress the unspoken words hidden between the lines. What followed was an interesting session of questions and answers between innumerable sips of dark, liquified caffein and again the grand dame did not hesitate a bit in hitting the ‘ball in her court’ ( as she put it) with that right amount of forthrightness, eloquence and may I add a whole lot of chutzpah.

As she settled down in the downy sofa, elegant and glowing, her exotic Kanjivaram saree splayed around her equally aristocratic persona, I volleyed my first shot

Why wait for 60 long years?

The reply was a patient one

You must understand that what Aradhana was telling Ajay was not a wanton statement told for titillation with a bated breath like ‘I love you’ as portrayed in chicklit romances. It was a responsible sharing of a bit of information of something long past and which was not targeted to elicit any cataclysmic effect All she wanted was to let him know that he did play a role in her early life though unknown to him. As such it required utter privacy (not for the usual reasons) and lot of maturity on the part of both Aradhana and Ajay. Such an opportunity presented itself only after 60 years.

Well, we are in the age of Right to Information. Aren’t we? But isn’t there something more to love than just information sharing ? I cajoled her into the next more intimate query:

Do you think fidelity is just a figment of collective imagination? I mean who has the password to a woman or for that matter a man’s mind?

 She smiled a little knowingly before speaking up :

Fidelity is purely a mental state supported by meaningful physical activities. It is not just repeating ‘I love you’ hundred times and changing your mind in a second due to some trivial reason.

Well, my curiosity was irrepressible and her smile had encouraged me to egg on…

You have in your book illustrated a kind of balanced rope walking in so far as man-woman relationship is concerned? Your heroine Aradhana is a devoted wife yet she nurtures an almost juvenile crush for another man who is not always physically present with her? In that sense proximity seems dispensable to a fertile mind. Do you agree or disagree.

She shrugged and perhaps bided for time as she took a slow sip from her coffee cup..and then

Yes, the key words here are ‘juvenile crush’ and not ‘balanced rope walking’. Aradhana secure in her marital state never had the necessity to do ‘ balanced rope walking’. Her one sided love for Ajay was indeed a pleasant episode from her teenage years and it remained a pleasant memory and nothing more.

I was engrossed and thoughtful. How could a woman love two men at the same time without compromising on her loyalty. I had to ask her to find out :

Well, there is a thin line of demarcation between love and fascination. How would you define Aradhana’s feelings towards Ajay? Is it actual love or is it love for the idea of love? Is the emphasis more on love at a conceptual level?

Pat came the answer without much ado

Well, as far as the young Aradhana was concerned, it was the real thing for her. But, teenage itself is such a period that ‘love for love’ is often mistaken for ‘love’ itself. But in her case, since her astral handicap was also there, there was no opportunity to nurture it further into a more adult level.

 I was insatiable. There is always so much to read between the lines, especially, in novels which offer what has never been said before

Realism and romance are antithetical to each other? A husband-wife relationship is more realistic because it is backed by social sanction and evolves with time? Does romantic love also has similar scope of growing into something more elevating and deep?

She patted my hand in a motherly fashion before replying

I would not say that realism and romance are antithetical but in an ideal situation they could be and should be complementary. A social sanction is only one of the firmaments on which marital love stands. There are so many other factors like loyalty, understanding, humour etc amongst which romance is not precluded.    

With the touch of her hand as though her indomitable spirit was transmitted into mine. I sprinted on

Coming to the most debatable issue of your novella – platonic relationship between man and woman? Do you think it can withstand the test and passage of time ?

She was contemplative and her reply equally so

Yes, platonic relationship or friendship as it is called in normal parlance is possible and it can withstand the test of time provided it remains purely platonic without other distractions like sexual overtones spoiling it, Such a friendship is possible between two mentally healthy, psychologically normal partners – a man and a woman who are both firmly secure in their own backgrounds.

I had a sense of de ja vue. There was a kind of timelessness in her words. Love unblended, unshackled, ethereal….”haath se chhoke issey rishton ka ilzaam na do…. pyar ko pyar he rehne do koi naam na do (Gulzar)”…..”do not sully love by the touch of your hand…let love be love without a name”….. .I moved on

“And She Waited For Sixty Years” is a woman’s perspective on life, love and relation. However, the reader is inquisitive to know Ajay’s feelings towards Aradhana which remains undisclosed in the novel. Is it deliberately contrived to keep the readers guessing?

She winked and I could again glimpse that impish side of her though not so much displayed in the novel which has serious as well as sardonic undertones

The feelings of Ajay are deliberately kept undisclosed as the novella is totally from the perception of the heroine. The fact that she is totally unaware of it lends a sort of ‘mystery’ to Ajay’s character. He is a charming person, at ease with everyone. But that’s about it. “Aradhana would ask her friends how one could come to know if the other person was interested or not”. With a total lack of feedback from the other person , Aradhana had almost a clean slate to begin her life with Vinod. If the reader is perceptive enough they are free to imagine Ajay’s mind from the stray sentences dropped here and there.

The reader in me was unplugged. With the second cup of coffee, I decided to plunge forward as though it were my last resort to sanity

There is a constant comparison (at least in reader’s mind) between Ajay and Vinod – the two men in Aradhana’s life. Do you think reality (Vinod) overshadows imagination (Ajay) as Aradhana’s life progresses ?

 This time, her answer was phlegmatic. Was there a chink in her veil, which she was desparate to hide, I wondered :

“Well, comparison is the last thing in Aradhana’s mind. As far as she is concerned, her attitude towards the two never reached the comparison level. As she says, Ajay was like one of the strands in the colorful bundle of optic fibers which constituted her life with Vinod”.

I shook my head to dust away the grains of doubt diluting my thoughts . Knowing Vimala one wouldn’t associate with her things like parallel worlds and suppressed desires. She is the kind who lives life to the fullest sucking up all the joys and beauty of existence around her and giving back as much in retun. She was not the one to cower down by oppressive norms and diabolic dictums of society. And its this fatih that made me ask her the next question unhesitantly

Do you think a candid confession of unrequited love can demean a woman’s position in society? You have dealt with taboos like homosexuality, exhibitionism , mental fidelity etc in your novel though in a peripheral way. Do you think it is as much taboo for a woman to declare her true feelings for a man who is not her lawful life partner?

 The answer was unambiguous, straight-into-the-face, practical and sensible

It entirely depends on the type of love she is carrying for the man who is not her lawful life partner- true or transitory, sexual or platonic, juvenile or mature. It also depends on her lawful partner, whether he is an understanding type or a person of violent temperament etc. It also depends on the society in which she lives. If the people around her are broadminded or the ones whose staple diet is gossip.

 There is something in Vimala’s personality, which can embolden one and idiotically so. You are not scared of a rebuff because you know even her snub would be gift wrapped in witticism. So I pushed on

Your take on feminism. Against the backdrop of Indian patriarchy, do you think it is overplayed at times and severely downplayed at others?

And I was right, wasn’t I? She was at her brazen best

According to me ‘femisnism’ is not an AAM ADMI cap which anyone and everyone can don and declare themselves as feminists. Nor is it a bra burning frenzy. Feminism is an individual inner feeling that comes up when one feels one has been dealt an unjust move, more so when there is oppression. This oppression can be from one’s own parents, husband, sons or daughters or any relatives. It is an urge to stand on one’s own ground without giving in to external pressures. This attitude when exhibited by a woman when confronting the other sex is strongly resented particularly in India where patriarchy has always held sway.

The afternoon had drawled into early evening. The shadows were lengthening and the sky was turning into a milder shade of grey. The gloss and sparkle on the face of earth was gradually ashening. It was time to say au revoire but not before I had asked the most anticipated question

The last  cliched one – what next ? A bigger novel ? A greater surprise?

 She laughed and said

A sequel? The characters in the present novella have all reached a ripe old age. What can come next is only obituaries. But then you never know!

Yes, with Vimala Ramu, we never know. She will always be there to explode us with laughter and intrigue us with some interesting anecdote of the past. More than that, she may come up with something absolutely unexpected and surprisingly thought provoking in her next venture. Till then we wait with bated breath.

Long Live Vimala Ramu, the witiest best I have ever come across!!!

————

This is the first of the Virtual Coffee Series conceptualized to bring forth a healthy and stimulating discourse on literature, art, cinema, theatre, music, culture etc. The idea is to invigorate an intellectual churning of  thoughts and ideas drawing the readers and the participants alike into the vortex of a steaming hot debate or engaging into wistful remembrances of the gone by. In either case,  the conversational mood shall be its mainstay and of course the mug of piping hot coffee to go with it!

Shall be eager to know how you like it!!

 

 

Meghma Calling…..


Megma, ten thousand feet above sea level, a sleepy village shrouded all the year round by envelopes of misty clouds, lies right on the border of Bengal and Nepal. Cavorts by Meghma the toughest stretch for bikers leading to the popular trekking paradise – Sandakphu. Megma or Meghma (Megh meaning clouds) boasts of a lone school Saraswati Mandir and an indomitable man with a mission…..

Sandakphu

Sandakphu

Meghma Mission

The man strode the steep mountainous roads with a purpose and an agility which belied his age. He was sixty one and still going strong! Sturdily built the smile on his lips left a silken glow to his eyes and whenever he roared with laughter the cloud draped peaks of Meghma echoed his child-like joy in countless booms. At the age of four he had nurtured a dream which he lived his entire life. It was a simple wish which had become his mission….to spread the light of education in every humble home of remote India. He had never quantified his achievement but devoted the best part his life to the crumbling edifice of Saraswati Mandir. Now retired, he still attended to the myriad jobs, from administrative to teaching, involved in running the school, however, obscure and uncared for the same might be.

The Odds :
He could see the two roomed brick house with thatched roof standing proud not afar. It always reminded him of an aged patriarch who had seen much of life yet refused to succumb to tortuous times. The walls desperately needed a coat or two of paint. When the clouds burst in anger the roofs leaked and the wild wind seeped through the loosely cemented brick wall sending a numbing chill down the bodies of those twenty odd little children who dared to dream with him – of getting to know the letters! There was never enough in those three class rooms which he and Neela ma’am managed to keep going – the rooms were sparsely furnished, the desks and chairs creaked and shook, the blackboards had lost colour and cracked from side to side a long time back, the chalks had reduced to stubbles, there were no picture charts or basic visual aids for the children to ‘see, learn and relate to’ and above all the scarce stationary, a basic necessity of the teacher and the taught, were perennially in need of replenishment.

 

Sandakphu 2

The Quiet Sleepy Village

 

The children had understood poverty before they could know the alphabets. Putting up at higher altitude they trekked around 2.5 km. each day to reach their “abode of enlightenment” sometimes shivering in biting cold and at others soaking wet in tireless downpours. Remember Ekalavya who had to give away his thumb as gurudakshina to Dronacharya? A price to pay for privileged learning? These children pay their prices too and a very heavy ones at that. There are days they go without meal and when the pencils turn into stubs, which their tiny fingers can barely clutch, they practice the alphabets on the ground and put a handful of pebbles outlining their achievement – milestones do we call them?
Yet when the tiny hands hold a roughly sketched painting of Maa and Paa and a little child reading a book by the fireside or a pair of charcoal eyes lit up in excitement when a sum is done right, it is then that a few droplets of rains prick the teacher’s seeking eyes.

The Brave Hearts :

 

Meet the brave hearts Chandra Kumar Pradhan and the ever smiling Neela ma’am, who against all odds, are unobtrusively making monumental efforts to keep the light of education burning in the tough rocky terrains of remote Meghma!
Chandra Sir joined Saraswati Mandir at the age of 19. Having retired last year as the principal, he still continues to be associated with the school, teach the children and even extend private tuition, all free of cost coupled with a warm smile and loving heart. Neela ma’am helps with the basic supplies. Despite the insufficiencies and scarcities, twenty children pitter-patter their way to the school every day with a happy smile and heart full of expectations. What new are they going to learn today?

 

nelson mandela

 

My School Days :

For us schooling is just that part of life for which our parents have bothered more than we have had time to worry about. Six plus and a chocolate-coloured bus would stop at the door-step to take me to the wondrous world of nursery. With growing excitement, I climbed the ladder – from prep to middle to high school. In the beginning of each month, the fees were deposited without fail and come May brand new books and note books found their way to my study table. Those were the golden days – free and fanciful – of exploring and expanding horizon with Science and History, picking up newer ways of solving Algebraic equations, gorging on more books in addition to what was enlisted in the syllabus or kicking dust in the sprawling school grounds and getting bruised in the volley ball court. Today, I see the next generation working harder preparing for exams, deciding on academic career, scanning the list of prestigious institutes for admission, surfing through the net for a bank of unlimited and easily accessible information and referrals and persevering for a better tomorrow.
While urban education is more about competition and preparation for higher pursuits, in rural India it is more than often a question of fundamentals. Is the midday meal being regularly supplied to the children? Are the teachers really taking their classes seriously? Are the village households motivated enough to send their children to school? Is the community gender sensitized? The issues are innumerable and obstacles at times insurmountable.
Against this rural backdrop, it does not take much imagination to figure out the stupendous efforts put up by two undaunted souls – Chandra Prakash Sir and Neela Ma’am – to keep the bell ringing!! And never forget the children, who brave the steep inclines and inclement climes to reach Saraswati Mandir each day on time.
Will Chandra Kumar Pradhan’s dreams ever come true?

 

The Bigger Dream :

 

Notwithstanding what lies in store in the future, Chandra Kumar dares to dream. As he shuts his eyes, the mist clears over a sprawling estate – Saraswati Mandir – its whitewashed walls sparkling in the rare sunshine streaming through the clouds. Children laughing and playing in the school grounds tended with care. Well-furnished class rooms with polished blackboards, side boards adequately stacked with requisite stationary, pin-up boards showcasing the talents of the students – hand-made charts, arts and crafts, a bustling canteen, clean corridors winding through rows of classrooms filled with attentive faces, an attractive library having just the right number of books to make the children of Meghma aware of the world beyond the sentinels of undulating peaks and above all bunches of happily smiling kids not only from Meghma but also from nearby neighbouring villages in tidy uniforms filing towards the school gate.

 

Chandra’s dream doesn’t stop at the school gate. He visualizes a brighter tomorrow for Meghma. Khimku, the tea vendor’s son, distributing the local newspaper along with cups of tea to his customers at the tea stall. Chandu, the shopkeeper’s son, signing the documents at the bank for the loan he wishes to take to extend his father’s shop. Khushmal, so fond of Daak Vans, taking over as the Post Master at the local Post Office. And who knows Rani, his most promising student, may one day cross over the narrow bounds of Meghma and opt for the district college to pursue higher studies? For each of his twenty odd students Chandra nurtures a special dream. And when they all grow up to become proud parents they will show their children the path that leads to the haven of learning – Saraswati Mandir. That is how Chandra wants his Meghma to grow – a literate Meghma, an aware Meghma, an incredible Meghma!!!

 

Is it too much to wish for? Is it too big a dream to fulfil for a Shining India? Will Meghma remain wanting with a half story?

 

DEREK BOK

 

Article 21a of the Indian Constitution embodies the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education or Right to Education enacted by the Indian Parliament on 4th August 2009.
However, right also entails duty. While we enjoy our right it is our duty to see others enjoy their rights too. It is time to enjoy our right and #Do Right!

RIGHT TO EDUCATION

 

At present, Saraswati Mandir’s needs are elementary – two set of blackboards and twenty set of stationary.
But these are the rudimentary steps on which shall be founded a day a larger and stronger assemblage of learning and sharing.
Let’s just not confine the word education to the pious embodiments of the Constitution.
Let’s make education a way of life.

So,

Tweet

Blog

Share

this half story to make it complete.

Indiblogger with Indichange has taken the initiative with Tata Capital to complete these half stories.

I hope this meager contribution of mine, by way of this blog post, helps spread awareness about Chandra Kumar Pradhan’s mission to make education a way of life in every household in Meghma!

Please do visit http://doright.in

Hope Meghma’s mist filled skyline gets lighted with the blazing torchbearers of Saraswati Mandir – Chandra Kumar Pradhan and Neela !!!!

Bravo

 

A Strange Philosophy You Would Love To Hate


THE STRANGERIt is one of my esteemed co-blogger’s comment on one of my blogs which had drawn me inexorably towards Albert Camus and his writings. Before that, I am sorry to say, I had not even heard his name. Camus (1913-1960), a Nobel Laureate in Literature (1957), was a French writer, philosopher and propounder of absurdism. The absurdists believe that the coexistence of the Universe and the human mind are in inherent contradiction with each other making it humanly impossible, given the vast realm of information and the unknown, to find the ultimate truth. Camus’ novel The Stranger (1942) is an archetypical statement on existentialism (though Camus rejects it) and the absurd.

Meursault, the protagonist of the novel, attends his mother’s funeral at the Home for the Aged Persons at Marengo. His calmness and composure, during the last rites, attract the attention of the inmates. On his return, Meursault revives his friendship with Marie, who used to once work at the same office where he works. Given to taciturnity, Meursault does not clearly elucidate his feelings for Marie. However, Marie is eager to marry him. He also strikes up a closer association with his dubious neighbour Raymond Sintes. By and by Raymond confesses that he is having rough patches with his Moorish mistress. On his request, Meursault gets involved in Raymond’s plan to teach her a lesson. However, both fail to take into account the resultant unpleasantness when the plan half succeeds. Raymond gets into a brawl with the girl’s brothers (Arabs) and it is Meursault, who in a heat haze, kills one of them.

Meursault is arrested and put under trial. It is during the court proceedings that Camus systematically reveals how societal dictates impinge upon the concept of natural justice. It is not the act of crime but the preconceived notions of the justice-deliverers that colour the rulings. Meursault is identified as a hard-core criminal by his behaviour preceding and after the killing  -  his atheism, his lack of remorse during his mother’s funeral rites, his physical intimacy with his girlfriend the very next day of his mother’s death, his refusal to break down before the magistrate as a sign of repentance, his total lack of guilt, his matter-of-factness during the entire trial proceedings and finally his disregard for the prison chaplain – are considered to be sufficient indicators of how unfeeling and criminal minded he is. We are conditioned by the established norms of the society and quick to being judgmental against those who do not conform to set behavioural patterns.

Parallely, Camus diligently addresses the issues of individual liberty – the freedom to express Camusoneself the way one wants – and punishment (as mitigated by the law implementers of the land) as a mechanism designed to progressively curtail free thinking and free living of those whom society considers detrimental to civilization. Contentious and debatable Camus creates a surreal atmosphere in his novel, The Stranger, wherein the protagonist as an individual is as dispassionate and detached a player amidst the “benign indifference of the Universe” – the L’ Etranger.

In stark contrast to the Karmic advocacy of a singular stream of super consciousness binding the cosmos in its entirety in one thread, Camus’ approach is relentlessly pessimistic. Time and again, the portrayal of individual existence usurps the form of an isolated journey, in the midst of frenzied monotony of day to day living, juxtaposed haplessly against an ever churning yet apathetic Universe. The revelation is almost suicidal and a betrayal of the buoyant note of optimism and hope that mankind vouches for. Underlies a Spencerian streak too hopelessly imputing utilitarian worth to a man’s aimless wandering following the currents of time’s linearity. Pitted against this ever-expanding vastness of the Universe, man is a condemned creature of circumstances – extenuating or otherwise.

Camus is disturbing and not exactly a hope raiser.  An upsurge of emptiness and meaninglessness overwhelms as Meursault is sentenced to the guillotine and no clue is supplied by the author whether an appeal to the next higher authority in hierarchy may yield a verdict in his favour. While illusion is as absurd as reality, one would, for the sake of an assumed continuum of euphoria, wish to hold on to a shadow of the former than give up irrevocably to the harshness of the latter.

Camus’ narrative is in the first person and except the last few chapters (Meursault’s life in prison) not exactly descriptive or introspective. Notwithstanding, Stuart Gilbert’s translation is lucid and conveys well the universal loneliness of existence howsoever gregarious the human species is intended to be.  Interestingly, the narrative focuses and floats on a string of happenings underscoring the essence of being in the awareness of one’s existence and surrounds. Even during the most dramatic or cathartic moment, there is no indulgence in nostalgic remembrance of the past or dwelling upon the lack of certitude of the future. Remarkable is the detached acceptance of the protagonist even as the last ray of hope appears to be progressively diminutive.

CAMUS 2Having said all that, Camus makes one think. However, even as he denies, Meursault’s fated end amidst “howls of execration” is a conformation to Society’s diktats. The Stranger has layered strata of incredulity and a realm of larger acceptance which is almost enviable in its accomplishment and at the same time implausible to attain if viewed pragmatically. Yet, it’s an unforgettable classic because in the final analysis it speaks of the timeless desire of man to live life on his own terms.

The Jaded Jersey


You can read the first part here

METRO

 

The colour orange was not exactly a blasphemy. Yet in all its shabbiness, it was loud enough to attract attention. The wearer of this eyesore (read jersey) was a chinky-eyed girl who had her nose immersed in an Ayan Rand. I think it was the Fountain Head. I was envious of her because more than once I had tried to emulate her stance and failed miserably. Though the Metro has a smooth glide, yet reading while standing inside the Ladies’ Compartment has often given me a stiff neck and resultant vertigo because of which I finally decided to give up on reading in a moving vehicle of any order.

The seats were as usual all  occupied – mothers knitting, aunts dozing, girls chirping, loud mouths gossiping…there were all kinds bunched together in that compartment bustling with gregarious humanity conspiring to survive another day in an over-saturated urban hole.

Amidst the ruckus was this plump girl having an animated conversation on mobile with, (I thought at first) her boyfriend, no, (but later got convinced) her husband. The realization was gradual, i.e.,  from conjecture (boyfriend) to ultimate confirmation (husband). Women go by their instincts.  Mobile chats have come of age. In today’s here-we-go-round-the-mulberry-bush-kind-of-life they are the only savior of sanity. Being an ace eavesdropper, my veteran ears can now pick up the subtlest of nuances of a one-sided talk in a jiffy….Its layered, to say the least, I mean, a chat with the Invisible One at the other end.

If you are in a settled kind of relationship, the chat is equivalent to that of reading out the weather report (Well, nowadays, even that is contrived to be  more watch-worthy; who listens to the droning news-giver on FM Rainbow?). You discuss (underlined) the perpetual tussle with your-not-so-happening-boss, never ending hang-ups with your best friend, ever-widening rift with your parents – the gen gap – they want you to get married and you have prioritized on establishing a career first and in general land up divulging to all and sundry the boring manuscript of your jaded life, in between strings of unbecoming yawns, because you know he (on the other end) won’t mind that you are completely faded out by the end of a not-so-uncommon day. You value him as a listener, a confidante of your unexciting secrets while he may be feeling equally sleepy  but manages to keep afloat and make appropriate noises, by way of intermittent replies, to pep you up, in a friendly way.

With the one you are just feeling the grounds about, there is a zing to the ring ! A kind of poorly suppressed undertone of excitement, an irresistible  urge to prove yourself to be interesting and smart, a withhold ready to erupt in a barrage of unrestrained outbursts – the blush on your cheeks, the shine in your eyes, the quiver on your lips say much more than you wish to disclose to strangers.

Alas! With the husband, its a different cup of tea all together. Its familiarity bordering on contempt graduated to the next level! You know each other too well to be disillusioned. You make factual statements which are as impassive as your facial expression. Even the volley of accusations that you throw at each other, at regular intervals, has lost the edginess of an impending word-war. In short, you are completely in sync with each other, to the extent of being zoned off  from the rest of the world, your absolute acceptance of each other epitomizing a perfection attained in the course of an age-long assiduousness .

So, I opted for the third…the deceptively placid tone, the shimmer-less smile playing on her lips,  the preparedness in her gesticulations  -  the girl was engaged  in a conversation with her dear old hubby. And it flowed somewhat like :

Tumhaare muh mein keedey pade. Par padenge kaise tum to khud hi ek keeda ho!” (May your mouth be infested with a horde of insects. But how could it be? Aren’t you an insect yourself?). This was an even-toned remark said in as matter of fact a manner as though she were making a casual mention of the current price of potato in the market. A flicker of smile went around – understanding, appreciative, amused – like a smooth glide of a sedate wave, pacific on the surface yet carrying  hints of undercurrents which a wise seafarer might think twice before navigating.

But what baffled me was the unperturbed countenance of  my co-commuter of Oriental ancestry. Unruffled she continued with her philosophical preoccupation; more engrossed than ever as I was left wondering whether the colloquial banters were too alien an exchange for her to understand or appreciate. If not, then how could she…………?

Routine is annoying. There is nothing pleasant to keep us tickled in a planned timetable of survival. The usualness of the daily rut bogs down. Yet we have a choice – to find humour and meaning in the mundane! And what else can furnish an outlet to our cooped up  existence than momentary respites stolen during the exhausting journey called life?

At the same time its a difficult choice because the choice lies with you…

Contd…/-

Frivolous Banter Part I


hbx0512Brahler13-lgn“Your bathroom is a room too….” Some ad-lines titivate while there are others which revolutionize not only the way you live but also the way you think. Who could have imagined potted plants, fresheners and designer floor-tiles displacing the monotony and colourlessness (not to mention the obnoxious smell) of your toilet (Isshhhh!!! That sounds so derogatory almost to the point of obscenity!!) to the extent that you would not like to relieve yourself, oops sorry, not that….actually you would like to relive all your rosy dreams for endless hours relaxing on the pot which by now miraculously appears to have evolved into a bejeweled throne of some sort…

We, as a nation, have come a long way….from temptingly exposing our butts by the rail tracks to the ogling eyes of thousands of known and unknown passers-by to languidly stretching out our exhausted frames in sunk-in Jacuzzi lined bathtubs. From the quintessential (downmarket some would scoff) lota to the immaculate, not to say, imported designer wares which add multiple dimensions to our sinks, shower cubicles, commodes and what not and what not.

The questions is why…why after all the bathrooms which were once considered absolutely dispensable (and unholy) structures while constructing a house…. an insult to human habitation to be added to the main portion of the house. Weren’t the lush green, beckoning meadows ideal enough to engage in that activity!!! Under the shady nook of an ancient tree by the rumbling brook while the birds chirped merrily and the bees hummed dizzily, ‘enlightenment’ embracing the crouched lurker in winged folds!! When you have the bounties of Nature at your disposal then after all why suddenly go extravagant on the room, which is actually not considered a room, by the typical Indian psyche?

“Has your sense of propriety taken a dip in the Ganges? Its an insult to one’s intellect contemplating on such issues….” Snorted my 03.00 am friend. Then on an afterthought,”Of course, its the effect of globalization…..what else?”

“Is it?” I was not convinced. “You cannot just pin everything down to that …”

“Mankind have an inherent inclination to beautify everything around them…. luxuriate in the lap of extreme comfort……its the sensualist within us …..addiction to extravaganza….Remember the Hamaams… the medieval improvisation of modern day spas?”

“Well…………..”

“What else?” She sounded impatient to close the topic asap.

“But have you ever delved further? What is the underlying urge in us which provokes mindless squandering in the name of aesthetics….”

She looked dubious….

“We are self-seekers. We wish to feel elevated by ornamenting our surrounds…” She said at length.

I remembered once when in the Office, the gents washroom was getting renovated, the ladies were asked to use the one attached to the Conference Hall while theirs was allocated to the ‘displaced’ male members of the fraternity. But the temporary brass plate on the the entry door to the Ladies Room declaring it to be the “Gentleman’s Toiltet” gave rise to a whole lot of speculations, which went beyond the bounds of sanitation, the main concern (especially amongst the ladies) being the procedure by which the Gentleman would get distinguished from the clan of non-Gentleman and where would the latter be accommodated if the lavatories were so precisely classified on intention specifics.

“I think the act of relieving itself is an expression of freedom. We free ourselves of the junk accumulating everyday inside our body, medically speaking, and the resultant toxicity inside our mind too…..Swamiji says you have to cleanse your body first in order to have a clean slate for higher spiritual awakening……”Oh! My know-all friend!!! What would I have done without you?

But I was only half listening….her advocacy of freedom beat African rock drums in my over-fertile cerebrum. Lately, the everyday walks with my pet are becoming quite tedious as she has become extremely selective about the spot where she would like to ‘seek freedom’, I mean, relieve herself. She goes sniffing and snooping about the service lane with me on tow patiently prodding her at intervals to be a little less choosy and finish off the day’s work without further fuss. But nothing doing! She is as independent minded as her other canine counterparts. Sniff…sniff….sniff…she goes till I almost throw up my hands in exasperation and let her be off leash for a while till she has determinedly located the coveted spot for attaining Nirvana.

Well, isn’t she as much (if not more) a seeker as we, the deplorable humans are ? Coming to think of that on a positively serious note, will we be ever able to sniff and snoop into unclaimed territories or give a damn to trespass in quest of that ultimate freedom, which will, as my know-all friend propagates, expunge our body of filth and expel the poisonous pollutants from our minds that decimate all our uplifting achievements in a matter of seconds? The answer is an obvious no. We who call ourselves civilized are shackled to our own image. The day we transcend the bounds of civility we shall be emancipated. Till then the chains clang in disturbing notes and we bite dust in eternal search.

I salute you Mr.Jean Jaque Rousseau, sir, after almost two and a half decades of having read you, the underlying assertion of your words pierce a hole in my wanting grey cells ………..Men are born free and they are everywhere in chains”. They are, aren’t they?

Are You Doing Well ?


Image0323Sense of well being is as elusive as success and as tangible as profit. By the time readers stop gawking at the inappropriateness of the analogy, lemme illustrate for the sake of lucidity. When I was offered this coveted post far away from my home ground, I was so encumbered with the bitter botherations of day-to-day living that the euphoria of hitting the jackpot failed to overwhelm me for quite a few years down the line. My dear colleagues, poking fun at my “size zero” figure, would point out that I was one of those few exceptions who managed to retain the “impoverished” look even after guzzling down a few generous fills of the silver tonic which was temptingly packaged with the cushy job. In response, I would be suitably apologetic stammering out lame excuses for the benefit of the prying eyes and wagging tongues. It took a transfer (with promotion) back home for the maiden gush of prosperity to manifest in my vital statistics. Not to mention the sheer despondency of my seamstress who was positively hassled by the few inches which required to be added to my outfits bi-monthly to make them in any way wearable.

The long and short of the story is that though a pot-belly, by the Indian standards, may be the most adequate representation of well-being, it is actually the mindset that has the remote access. Again, it’s rather funny with this neighbour of mine incessantly crying poverty or ill-health when its quite obvious otherwise. The worldly-wise tell me that whining-and-nagging-in-public is an effective antidote to the Black Eye (read Envy) of the Jealous Ones which invariably your wellness attracts. To be very honest, I am guilty of applying the same tactics at times, especially with the ones who have a tendency to go green at your smallest of successes. Sadly by doing so, I realize I am actually employing negative vibes to kill negative vibes thereby perpetuating the same. As I write this, my 03.00 am friend here judiciously prompts that it is our innermost fears and insecurities which play spoilers. “Won’t it be better the sooner we accept that everything which adds up to our comfort level is as ephemeral as life itself? Take each day as it comes.” She sermonizes with that know-all look which at times irritates me to no end. Yet, I cannot help but munch on her preaching.

We feel we are doing well when we are comfortable with our own selves. The slightest sense of unease disrupts the balance impelling us to grope for external saviours to put the equation straight. Well being is a state of mind and like all other mental manifestations, the element of whimsicality is ingrained in its genesis. No wonder, our ancient rishis and sages harped on inner calm rather than material acquisitions. Unfortunately, mere mortals equate wellness with all that comes with creation and proliferation of wealth. And as we are inevitably sucked into the vortex of this mad, mad worldly existence we forget to pause awhile and ask ourselves : “Are we really doing well?”

A seemingly harmless question, rather insignificant, you may say with a scoff, “Of course, I am doing well. See the shining car which I have whisked off the showroom just yesterday although on exorbitant rate of interest. So what? But yes, now I confiscate more space on-road in comparison to the tax that I have shelled out for the same, haven’t I?” True, my friend, you’ve added another feather to your overcrowded cap and another worry to your overburdened brain. It is this very same reason that makes it almost imperative to take a stock of things within and around at regular intervals. Open the floodgates of introspection, face your innermost dilemmas, confirm to your ownself whether your present sense of achievement is not backed by ruthless maneuvers to pull down somebody else who was its rightful claimant, direct all useless thoughts to the recycle bin to delete them permanently, take ownership of your past, present and future, prioritize material goals viz-a-viz their intrinsic worth, vacate your mind of all guilt and restart life without looking back. Do this exercise time and again till you are habituated of it and I promise you won’t require that bottle of sleeping pills by your bedside for a good night’s nightmare-less sleep.

So friends, wake up fresh and ask yourselves: “Are you actually doing well?”

2013 in review


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 55 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

High Heels


HIGH HEELS

 

I don’t know who invented high heels, but all women owe him a lot – Marilyn Monroe

I miss my Metro days - when I used to travel to and fro office by the tube. Oh! How I loved to get lost in the crowd, stare into new faces, overhear funny , interesting conversations and make up stories in my mind. Strangers always intrigue me. Where are they from and where are they off to? What is going on in their lives? What are their hidden secrets? What lies beneath that expressionless face? You may call me naturally inquisitive in a harmless kind of way. But this curiosity , these innocuous questions swirling in my mind, this inner urge to know about people often give birth to tales which I am eager to tell. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not a people-centric person but I like to be one amongst them, like a quiet, almost invisible, spectator, watchful, thoughtful yet considerate and concerned.

Enough about myself. Let’s talk about her. I don’t know her name and we have never exchanged pleasantries. I never do. I am not the extrovert kind. But there was something about her which drew my attention each time I saw her. Clad in cotton sarees (and silk, of course, during winters), short in built, fragile boned, with a long, waist length plait swaying down her back, she presented a matronly  picture. In her mid forties or more but quite agile on her feet, she preferred  to stand inside the compartment though it was at times difficult to do so amongst the jostling bodies.

She never smiled or talked much with the co-passengers, which is kind of pity, because I would have loved to here her voice. You know how much one can make out about a person just by listening to his/her voice…. Now, where was I?

She looked like a skittish mice on the look out for a safe anchor. Yes! She did remind me of them. Neither did she look like one of those happily married kinds. In contrast to her usual stance, once or twice I did see her talking to somebody known to her…snatches of conversation indicating an extended family, nieces and nephews…and did she smile ? She did, but the glint did not lit up her face or reach up to her eyes. It was a mere formality & no more. Yet, my eyes sought her in the crowd and I could have, in the long run, discarded her thoughts as unnecessary or remembered her with a faded smile as the ‘Ms. Mouse in the Metro’ …but so it was not to be.

It was a lukewarm evening when we happened to de-board the Metro at the same station. (Aah! Yes, she used to get down at my stop!!)  and as she descended the steps to the concourse, my eyes travelled down to her feet – small, dainty feet encased in high heels Oh yes! High heels smartly tapping on the marbled floor as she made her way through the throng of commuters. Sturdy pair of  shoes those were - neither wedge nor stilettoes - slightly old fashioned ones yet it bestowed an additional dimension to her otherwise lackluster personality. I used to often wonder how smoothly would she maneuver through the crowd while boarding or de-boarding the train attributing her efficiency to the mouse-like skittishness in her. But now, after glancing upon her heels, I had an entirely different opinion about her. She was no more the ‘Mouse in the Metro’.  Behind that well-scrubbed face and the one-amongst-the-crowd persona, lay in hiding a woman of smarter means. A pair of heels gave her an altogether different air… layers to a  common face, an ulterior façade to her unassuming bearing, a super-imposed plainfacedness which now seemed like a cleverly designed deception to divert attention off her innermost cravings…. secret ambitions, perhaps, of being desirable and presentable to a society which overtly fondled pre-conceived notions of  what was attractive and tempting in the womankind. Strange! As these thoughts stirred me I realized how she, with her tap-dancing platform heels, wordlessly made a point perfunctorily countering what I had, in my heart of heart, intended her image to be! Once again, I was compelled to acknowledge that I was also very much a part of the system that I was often disgusted with and vociferously condemned as prejudiced and judgmental.

Due to  my disconnection with the Metro, I have not met her since, although, I presume, she is an inhabitant of the same locality as I am, yet those pair of sturdy heels clicking on the smooth, shiny floor still play a staccato beat  in my mind….quite often…

Well, there are many such insignificant incidents, while journeying by the Metro, that have made permanent abode in my memory. If you ask me why I shall not be able to give a suitable or logical reply. Why these inconsequential anecdotes are so impressionable and memorable that I am dedicating a whole series of posts on them? But the fact remains that they are and here I am chronicling them….and that’s that…

….And then there was this elderly Sardarjee who snored happily as the air-conditioned bogey chomped the tracks with a soothing symphony that complemented well with the sleepyheads slumped over cozily therein on the shoulders of the co-commuters seated adjacent. The Sardarjee with his huge head and huger turban looked as though would roll off the berth anytime the tube took a curve but he never did which provoked generous smiles on the lips of those who could not enjoy the ride as much as the unknown patriarch did in a haze punctuated with rhythmic scores, nay, snores!!!

To be continued…/-