Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Citizen Goswami

Amidst the fireworks which were burnt during the Deepavali week, the nation received a bombshell. The editor-in-chief of Times Now and ET Now Arnab Goswami announced his decision of quitting the Times Group to start his own venture. The bombshell in the literal sense led to shock across newsrooms even as Twitter and social media went into a tizzy trying to speculate the reasons for quitting and wondering what next for the fiery anchor. For some, the exit from Times Now also spelled relief since he is seen as the key anchor responsible for oversimplification of TV debates. The nation wondered whether if Arnab’s blazing guns will silent and whether if there will be no more noise at 9 pm. It was as if viewers had been orphaned at a crucial moment and we were left to fend for ourselves to find alternative sources of entertainment to keep ourselves entertained at 9 pm.

There is little doubt about the severe credibility crisis that most journalists in India face today. Most journalists are perceived as power hungry and often believe in return and take through measures that encourage obeisance and sycophancy by keeping themselves blind to certain realities. Very few are actually granted entry into the privileged Lutyens’ media circle. Times Now’s studios are based in Mumbai and despite Arnab being an ‘outsider’ in a field which rarely looks beyond Delhi, he emerged as one of the successful TV anchors. He captured the nation’s imagination by capitalising on the repressed rage by making it his own. Questions, not answers, became the new trend, making him bigger than the brand of Times Now.

Individual opinions about Arnab and his contribution to journalism can vary but one cannot rob him of his success. He has converted opportunities into success because none of the other journalists—both from within and outside the circle—can match up to his fiery style of debate or command the viewership that Arnab singularly managed to steer for Times Now. As the nation’s daily dose of questioning comes to a standstill, one wonders about the future of 9 pm journalism. 9 pm will surely be duller until it begins again in another studio, at another time. Until then, we can only wish the best for Arnab’s future.   

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Karva Chauth: Regression vs Choice

It is finally that time of the year when social media goes into a tizzy as women often accuse each other of being shrill ‘feminists’ or declare themselves as slaves to patriarchy. Today is Karva Chauth, a festival where married women observe a fast for a day to pray for the long life of their husbands. While routine one day fasts must not create so much of a problem, it is rare for anyone to come across chatter on social media and websites which seek to promote ‘independent’ opinions on how Karva Chauth is ‘patriarchal and repressive’.


Observing the fast or not, must remain an individual choice. The relationship she shares with her husband will dictate her choice to abide by tradition or break free from it. With much chatter being generated online on the patriarchal and repressive aspect of the festival, it does not take much time to realise the anguish that some women go through for choosing to observe the fast. We are subjected to discourses on free speech, independent choices and thoughts across media and yet we choose to deride a woman for choosing to observe a fast which seeks to seek longevity of a husband. The relationship a woman and a man share and her free choice will decide whether a woman chooses to observe a fast. What gives us the right to decide for her?

If my quest for vengeance drives me to a point where I choose to attack someone for damaging the lungs by smoking, would I not be labelled as weird? But then, hey, didn’t Deepika Padukone tell us that it was all about my life and my choices? By applying the same standard, why should Karva Chauth be any different?  It is not mandatory for everyone to agree with everything but at the same time, deriding someone for a personal choice does not mean you are superior. It only positions you as a person with hollow beliefs. Sarcastic tweets do not even count as activism for women’s rights. Nobody, I repeat, nobody is under an obligation to bear the weight of the human race and to believe that it is a personal goal to solve all problems faced by the human race.

Social media has become the new battleground for male bashing. Every other day, men are shamed for not knowing enough about periods and the menstrual cycle or not sympathizing with their wives. Yes, the lack of knowledge and the gender disparity makes them the perfect victims on social media. Yet, if you choose to highlight on how he supports patriarchal and regressive upbringing patterns, it makes you the smaller person. Karva Chauth, eventually, is just a one day event and for me, the ability to exercise free will to observe a fast will not necessarily make me ‘liberal’ as we know it in India’s context but then, it is a conscious decision to look beyond the chatter and move towards becoming a liberal in the true sense of the word.  

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Big Talk:

Much commentary, often bordering near speculation, had been dedicated to a pattern of loose talk which rotated in a circular manner of ‘will he, won’t he’ guesswork. Raghuram Rajan announced an end to needless speculation by expressing his desire to return to academia after his responsibility as India’s central banker comes to an end. While his decision shocked many and with certain sections of media behaving as if we had been sucked into an apocalypse, the government finally announced that it was Urjit Patel who would succeed Rajan.

There is no doubt that Raghuram Rajan’s proximity to the media led to the creation of an invisible halo around him. One often wonders whether if a routine exercise such as the appointment of India’s central banker would have triggered so much speculation and interest. Surely, there is no denying that Raghuram Rajan’s frequent media appearances, widely covered lectures and a highly relatable personality often led to a debate whether if he has succeeded in sparking an interest in Economics especially among the common man.

The central idea of this piece is to ruminate on the role of communication as the central banker. For instance, the US Federal Reserve chairperson’s direct interaction with the media is just four times a year. Central bankers are appointed with a clearly defined mandate of maintaining inflation and assessing the performance of the economy and recognising potential threats due to geopolitical turbulence. While it is not practical to be inaccessible, it is important to strike a balance between speaking at a predictable moment and taking the market by surprise. At most, one would acknowledge a few intermittent sound bites which are usually accepted since the media poses questions on the sidelines of some events. Communication, therefore, is the most important in both cases and maintaining a balance is essential.

There is absolutely no doubt that the media fawned over Raghuram Rajan. His candid opinions often led him to making inroads into TV studios, giving one-on-one interviews. Among other things, we saw him attend school functions as a chief guest and interacting with students. Much as it is important to acknowledge what the future thinks of the national economy, it made one question whether if a central banker had to issue a statement on every topic, including the pithy debate on alleged ‘intolerance’ in India, which was instigated by the media.

In contrast, Urjit Patel as the new RBI Governor, despite his brilliance and command on macro-economics, we have rarely seen him deliver lectures or preside over events. As his inaugural monetary policy review was announced on Tuesday, one could not help but admire the restraint the governor maintained. Maintaining a low-profile and yet getting his point across through a repo rate cut, the focus inevitably shifts back to the macros such as economic growth. The debate among the media largely steered around the cut in repo rates and surprisingly, on Twitter too, conversations veered around the policy review and the rate cut.


There is absolutely no doubt that everyone in India looks for those 15 seconds of fame. Yet, a balance between how much to speak and when, is essential and if the balance is not achieved, we often end up with sound that gets amplified or unnecessary white noise. The role of the RBI in India is still too prominent and it is a respected institution. Yet, one can only hope that the gaffes committed under the tenure of Raghuram Rajan forces a rethink on the communication mechanism of India’s central bank. 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Kinder Ploy

Kinder Joy: Everyday Sexism, anyone? 
I recently signed up for a short course on children’s literature. In one of the course modules, the facilitator asked us to ruminate on the constructions of childhood through images in recent times. Interestingly, one of the images I found was this picture of Kinder Joy, a popular chocolate based snack for kids by Ferrero which among other things makes things like Nutella, Tic Tac mouth fresheners etc. The colours in which the egg-shaped chocolate snack appears is part of a larger malaise. The egg-shaped snack appears in two distinct colours: blue and pink and yet, it is one of the most popular chocolate based snacks due to the plastic toys that come along with it. The blue eggs are for boys and have ‘brave’ toys like an aircraft while the pink eggs for girls have ‘domestic’ toys like doll accessories.

With the kind of toys Kinder Joy offers, it baffles me about the exact ways these toys are considered ‘suitable’ for boys and girls. By reducing children to a prop, Kinder Joy promotes unfair competition, sexism and gender discrimination. The selective and targetted campaign is not just unethical but also demeaning since children are being used unfairly and it is unethical to establish a standard which must ensure that children adhere to the targets set by it in order to prove themselves as ‘achievers’. I strongly believe that every girl has the right to be informed that it is not wrong to play with cars, Lego or even trucks. Similarly, a boy must be allowed to dress up a Barbie doll in an atmosphere which does not necessarily resort to labelling or ridicule.

Interestingly, research has shown that until the 1950s, there was no common consensus about colours chosen for baby products. In fact, the June 1918 issue of the ‘Infant’s Department’, a trade magazine for baby clothes manufacturers made an interesting observation: ‘There has been a great diversity of opinion on this subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger colour, is more suitable for the boy; while blue, by being more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.Pink for the boy, blue for the girl, please note! Hence, it is interesting to observe how the paradigms have changed.

Funnily, the concept of gender-based colours was unable to retain its importance and the current paradigm of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ colours assumed importance only after the Second World War and established itself only by the 1980s due to a coordinated effort orchestrated by the mass media and marketing. I strongly believe that colours associated with gender must be cultural and each child deserves the space to evolve their own colour preference based on his/her associations with the colour.  

While we still contemplate on how a ‘masculine’ colour blue indicates bravery, valour and pride and pink is infused with traits that correspond to femininity, one cannot but help recall about how confidently a magazine just a century ago asserted ‘the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl’. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

How Blue is my Sapphire

‘I am late, I am late. Excuse me, please give me way, I’m late,’ I murmured while running for my life. ‘I am really late,’ I kept murmuring as I kept pushing against people, trying to find space to board the Howrah Mail. I boarded my coach, on time even as the engine gave a sharp hoot indicating departure. I noticed the time on my watch 22:00 pm sharp. The summer vacations were coming to an end and I was returning to Mumbai. I occupied my seat and I plugged in my headphones to drown out the noise and pretended to sleep in the upper berth.

I woke up the next morning when the train reached Mughalsarai. My co-passenger was reading a newspaper while I was reading ‘The Overcoat’ by Nikolai Gogol. When the train reached Manikpur, a book seller boarded the coach and I was overjoyed. It was a pleasure to browse through his collection. I tried my hand at attempting small-talk. ‘Manohar,’ he announced his name. Finishing his evening tea, Manohar flung the paper cup out of the window with an extra force and stood up with his bag. No sooner had he stepped on to the aisle, the Howrah Mail came to a screeching halt. ‘Chain pulling,’ screamed someone from the rear as the engine made three sharp but short horns. ‘Typical Howrah Mail,’ Manohar exclaimed. By now, he was totally familiar with the peculiarity of this train, known for its extraordinary delays.

The train was empty, except for a few seats which were occupied by a few families and senior citizens. With steady steps, Manohar walked across to the other compartment. The other hawkers in this train always complained of loss while Manohar’s business of selling books was always a hit. In the night, the other passengers were laying their beds and preparing to sleep as we were reaching Itarsi. I was walking around the coach when a lady called out to Manohar, ‘Excuse me, I need to visit the toilet. If it is not much of a bother, could you please take care of him for some time? I should be back soon.’ Manohar smiled and assured the lady of his support. I was surprised and decided to sit on an empty seat.

Recognising the unknown face, the child started crying. His eyes glittered and the stern expression told everyone nearby that he was not in the mood to cajole the baby or accept apologies. He gripped the child’s hair firmly in his fist and dragged it. ‘No, leave the child alone,’ I screamed uselessly, while others looked on, shocked at his behaviour. He slapped a lady and gagged her. He turned to the child and slapped the baby, making the baby cry again. ‘You have to pay for your actions, child. When I said don’t cry, that meant don’t cry.’ He growled smiling. ‘It is just a baby and must be hungry,’ said the other passenger. ‘Shut up,’ he screamed, cutting short the other passenger’s lament even as he shoved the baby’s head against the frames of the coach. The other passenger stared stunned, his arms frozen mid-air and ready to grab anyone, his mouth open to abuse someone else.

‘Get ready to clean up blood,’ he warned everyone. ‘Enough,’ I screamed. He flashed a knife and in a fit of rage, plunged it into my biceps, causing me to stumble. I fell to the ground screaming in pain and I was unable to register that the knife was still in my bicep. Yet, I rose and chased him, with the knife still in my arm. Manohar, meanwhile, had escaped to the end of the coach and looked around. He heard me coming and turned around. There was no time to think. I pulled the knife from my arm and stabbed him on his chest when he turned around. He fell to the ground, moaning. I bent as I saw him gasping while cradling his bleeding arm. He died when the train reached Khandwa, an hour past midnight. At Bhusaval, the RPF boarded the train and detained me. ‘Why did you stab Manohar?’ He asked, even as he threw glasses of water on my face, hoping that I would respond to his question. I sat there silently, staring at the fan unable to register a response.

15 years had passed since then. I was returning from work and was patiently awaiting my local train. 
‘The train arriving on platform number 4 is Howrah Mail via Gaya,’ the announcement shocked me. Numbness hung over me like a thick fog. As the local train entered the platform, the numbness wore off and shame overtook me. I still felt numb when I recalled how Manohar passed away. I got the custody of my daughter. My daughter was 17 and still loved cellphone and Pokemon cartoons. ‘I want to watch Pokemon with you tonight,’ I said, hesitantly. She laughed and thought I was making fun of her until I sat down on the sofa and watched two episodes of Pokemon with her. I found the concept ridiculous at first and she felt odd watching the show with me. She then suggested that we watch other shows to unwind and it was a natural progression to watching more realistic shows such as House of Cards and Game of Thrones.

We liked the shows and I enjoyed the time I spent with my daughter. Game of Thrones got us talking like never before. I remembered it very well when she sent me WhatsApp messages about the jokes that were circulated on Game of Thrones. Some of them genuinely funny and I was thankful for the little crevices of hope that life offered. When she was busy at school, I was alone at home watching Aparichit on TV. I was midway through the film when she rang the doorbell and I opened it. Watching the protagonist making a character in the film struggle with the sins he had committed in the past reminded me of that night in the Howrah Mail.

It was painful to watch live action fighting or death scenes nowadays since I felt always numb since I experienced it first-hand that night. Yet, when she asked about why I was shivering, I froze. ’15 years ago, I was travelling to Pune from my hometown. When the train was nearing Itarsi, a bookseller tried to kill an infant. In a fit of rage, driven by this deep sense of desire to protect the baby, I killed the bookseller,’ I said. The confession produced mixed feelings within me and I sought forgiveness though I knew I should not be forgiven. Yet, I couldn’t hold back my tears. My daughter placed her right hand on my shoulders and said, ‘Well, I can only say “thank you” for protecting the infant’s life, more than yours. Today, I have found my true hero.’ Her reassuring words calmed me down as I continued to cry in happiness.

Indeed, all of us live with our past and allow it to shape our future. But some of us know how to shrug the past. I think that is who I am.

                        
P.S.: This was my submission to Times of India's "Write India" initiative, a short story competition. Backed by a team of published authors, the process requires the participants to work on a certain prompt given by an author every month. The prompt for this story (in red font above) was given by Anita Nair in May 2016. 

Monday, 11 July 2016

Mumbai Untravelled: Banganga Tank

God with wives from across caste lines, a temple aided by Muslims, a burial ground for Hindu ascetics and a fresh water tank surrounded by the sea in Mumbai, sounds impossible? Welcome to Banganga, one of the oldest continuously inhabited neighbourhoods of Mumbai. 

During the 30 minute ride from Mumbai CST to Walkeshwar Depot, I kept wondering about the origin of Malabar Hill. At the depot, I recounted an earlier conversation with a conservation architect, who explained that the hills that mark the area, are not known so because they have anything to do with the Malabar region of Kerala. Devotees from the south of Konkan would visit the Banganga and in those days, anyone coming from the south was known as a Malabari.  

As I landed at the Walkeshwar Depot and looked around, I was prepared to be surprised. The beginning of the walk at Banganga led me to initially believe that it was a walk for the spiritually inclined. While it does help if you lean towards history, mythology and spirituality, the walk in itself is quite secular in composition. It transcends the boundaries of religion as we know it. In one of the oldest continuously inhabited settlements in Mumbai, it was surprising to find temples in an onion shape, reflecting Islamic influences or finding some displaying Buddhist symbols while negotiating through myths, some of which find common ground across religions.

The Khandoba Temple 
The walk begins with the priest applying turmeric vibhutis on my forehead, even as the devotees chant ‘Jai Malhar’ at the Khandoba temple, the pastoral God of Jejuri. Gliding through the snaky lanes, the next stopover was the Jabareshwar Mahadev Temple. The Jabareshwar Mahadev Temple is a smart pun for the name ‘Jabareshwar’, which conveys the illusion of power only to be punctured with a local legend of the temple being forcibly taken over and being named so by a trader named Nathubai Ramdas in 1840. 

Goddess Shantadurga
My next stopover was the temple of Goddess Shantadurga, the patron Goddess of the Goud Saraswat Brahmins. Although the temple seemed to be a fairly modern structure, the meditative vibes around the temple gave me a fresh lease of life to walk.

After a while, I admit the temple hopping made me restless. I stopped over to ask, ‘Banganga kahaan hain?’ and the corner shopkeeper points me towards a small side lane by telling me, ‘Down the stairs to your right.’ I smiled and headed downstairs. Arriving here, I find myself greeted by tall deepsthambhas, pillars that hold diyas. Looking around, I realised that the Banganga is the place where one takes several steps back in time even as one marvels at the paradox of traditional life co-existing with unplanned modernisation.

The chiming of the bells and the mantra-chanting pujaris and the occasional strains of Indian classical music, playing on radio greet me to the tank where Lord Rama stopped over en route to Lanka. Lakshmana, the brother of Sri Rama, is said to have shot an arrow into the ground, leading to the formation of the natural spring of Banganga. The source of the spring is largely believed to be a tributary of the River Ganga and the mossy green waters of Banganga are said to be just as sacred as the Ganga itself and is widely known for its healing powers.

The Banganga Tank
Next up on the agenda was the most important and oldest temple of the vicinity, the much reconstructed Walkeshwar Temple. On being advised to worship Lord Shiva and finding no idol, Lord Rama proceeded to make a linga with the sand available around him. This ‘Valuka Iswar’, which lends the place its name of Walkeshwar, is derived from the word for an idol made of sand.


Sitting on the staircase leading to the Banganga Tank, I wondered about how mindless development has ruined the area of its spiritual essence, which also marks the juxtaposition of Mumbai. My mind turned to thinking of simpler times when deepasthambhas must have dotted the skyline when temples did not look out of place in a concrete jungle. Despite all, the Banganga stands silently as a testament narrating the city’s growth from nothingness to being the financial capital to those who care to listen. 


Sunday, 15 May 2016

Hawa Mahal: A Natural Cooling System

The Hawa Mahal
A strong wind blows, stops at the closed windows in mock surprise. It then rushes through the tiny orifices, quietly rising through the narrow spiral staircases and stopping at the other side. The cylindrical balconies now appear stacked upon one another, like a set of different-sized flutes when tied together. From the chaotic crossroads at Badi Choupad in Jaipur, the road slopes down as it goes past the Old Legislative Assembly and Town Hall and the Hawa Mahal appears on the left, in a self-repeating fractal pattern spanning five floors in a series of smaller pyramids. 

The Hawa Mahal in its fundamental design resembles a honeycomb structure. It has also been equated as a symbolic representation of Lord Krishna’s crown. The Hawa Mahal was designed by architect Lal Chand Ustad for Maharaj Sawai Pratap Singh.  The original function of the building was to allow women watch processions on the streets below, through the intricate jharokhas, without a threat to their modesty.  

Interestingly, the Hawa Mahal is designed like a natural cooling system, based predominantly on the ‘Venturi Effect’ in Physics. The 953 perforations in the fa├žade serve as a device that generates wind for those who stand inside at its ramping corridors. The fractal design, with its self-repeating pattern at every scale—scaling up to the fourth floor where one can spot the Brihat Samrat Yantra, the tallest sundial at the Jantar Mantar. The air blown through is compressed, very similar to the ordinary laws which govern a modern day air-conditioner and is reflected through its curvy linear bay windows. With the Hawa Mahal being made of limestone, the principles that govern the making of the Hawa Mahal make it a very climate responsive building, to the point where it is dubbed as a ‘natural air-conditioner’.
The Brihat Samrat Yantra at Jantar Mantar from Hawa Mahal


It is striking when one realises how tall the Hawa Mahal seems in photographs, compared to its mere 50 feet and the portion we often see is actually the rear portion of the palace. Yet, the palace of winds is best viewed from the chaotic crossroads of Badi Choupad as it is from these very streets that people from across ages have looked up, marvelled at the grandeur and have led one to appreciate the finer intricacies of life, even as I tried to imagine the life which was once lived metres from poverty. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Counter Narratives: Murty Classical Library of India

In a finely written opinion piece, Ananya Vajpeyi from the Centre for Developing Studies in New Delhi, argues that online opposition demanding Professor Sheldon Pollock’s dismissal as the mentor of the Murty Classical Library of India (MCLI) is based on mere ‘right-wing propaganda’. In this article, I take objection to the term ‘right-wing propaganda’. Social media has taught us that anyone who challenges an intellectual by arguing on facts is sidelined and labelled for furthering a ‘saffron’ agenda.
While arguing for Professor Pollock’s retention, Ms. Vajpeyi passes a value judgment of the 132 principal sponsors of the online petition by denouncing them for ‘not having the knowledge of Sanskrit and other classical languages, literature, history or the humanities.’ The stand chosen by her is not surprising given that she defends Professor Pollock because she was his doctoral student. Therefore, anyone who criticises an eminent personality is deficient in understanding and therefore, determined to further ‘right-wing propaganda’.
It is possible that Professor Pollock’s public support for the students of JNU could be his personal view. In an otherwise scholarly essay, ‘The Theory of Practice and the Practice of Theory in Indian Intellectual History,’ Professor Pollock discredits the entire Shastra-tradition by choosing to label it as ‘authoritarian’. The basis for such generalisation is a gross misreading of the Vedas and its corpus. According to Professor Pollock, the Vedic corpus confines itself not only to a fixed and a transcendental signifier but is also an authoriser of the caste system, which is highlighted as the key impediment for the systemic blocking of critical thinking in the Indian civilisation, which is in striking contrast to the opinions propagated in the Rigveda. 
Anybody with a fair understanding of India and its diversity will reject such a damnation that is influenced by a monotheistic view which does not accommodate diverse viewpoints. While this can be dismissed as a personal belief, it raises doubts about the sincerity and commitment of Professor Pollock to the project as these are essentially translations. It is well-known that translations when not done by a practitioner of the language, invites itself to misinterpretation.
Next, she informs us that Professor Pollock translated two books, ‘Ayodhya’ and ‘Forest’ from Valmiki’s Ramayana, where he argued that Rama’s appeal cannot be understood unless it is taken to be both human and divine. Yet, Professor Pollock’s personal views on the Ramayana are disturbing when he says that the Ramayana is a literary work composed to oppress the masses.
She argues that the role Professor Pollock plays at the MCLI should not be given to an Indian. In a counter opinion, Professor Paranjape sharply observes that the mandate of the MCLI does not serve its purpose economically as labour in India is cheaper. Professor Paranjape remarks that the annual income of Professor Pollock from the endowment is a significant $2,80,000 per year at the ‘modest’ rate of 5 percent return. This is equivalent to almost Rs. 2 crores when calculated in Indian rupees. The modes of production to ensure the translated versions are released in a lower price band will alone escalate the total cost to Rs. 40 lakhs roughly. In her rush to defend her mentor, Ananya Vajpeyi cannot simply dismiss the intellectual capacities of Indians and their alleged ‘lack of knowledge’ simply because the views of the signatories of the petition do not necessarily align with hers.
Further on, she draws our attention to the fact that Professor Pollock ‘also launched and ran the Clay Sanskrit Library for several years prior to his current undertaking, the even more ambitious, complex and multilingual Murty Classical Library of India.’ The Clay Sanskrit Library was established by John Clay and met an abrupt end in 2008 when Mr. Clay diverted his attention to other philanthropic activities until his demise in 2013. Professor Pollock’s association with the project began in late 2007 which ended with the Library’s end in 2008 and hence, it was a short stint. Hence, the claim that he ran the library for ‘several years’ can be contested. 
Ananya Vajpeyi's intentions may be well-meaning but as it descends to the level of almost defending her mentor, it is a cause for concern. Her article, ‘Why Sheldon Pollock Matters’ may be stylistically well-written, however, it cannot be used as a launchpad to denounce and deny the intelligence of Indian scholars due to mere ideological differences.   

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Savitri


The vacations were coming to an end. Savitri finally felt a sense of fulfillment and she was pleased with herself. Her application as a lecturer at S.V. College had been accepted and she was radiant. Her six years of hard work: balancing home and her work had paid off very well. She had worked hard to secure her postgraduate degree in Economics with the help of a scholarship. ‘My father is coming to spend his time with Vivek,’ she announced with a sense of pride. Her husband Harish was not very happy to hear this but still smiled. He was the district collector. Though he had his reservations about her job, he supported his wife. She was going to be teaching at the same Economics department where she was once a student, seven years ago.

Savitri’s father Devdutt arrived by the train early morning on Sunday. She hugged him and prostrated at his feet when he along with Harish reached home in the car. Savitri left early for college on Monday as she had to submit her project report. It was reopening after the twelve day Pujo break. ‘Baba, Harish has to go to the field. He might be delayed tonight. Don’t wait for him for lunch. Will you take care of Vivek?’ She asked hesitantly. Her father smiled and said, ‘Of course, Savitri. I came all the way from only to be with him.’ She was relieved and left home feeling happy.

‘Dada, will you play with me?’ asked Vivek innocently. ‘Of course, my boy,’ his grandfather replied as he held his hands on his chin. They went to Vivek’s room and sat on the bed where the toys had been strewn in a big tub. They began building Lego blocks and finally, after a point both of them got bored. They switched to playing Scrabble. His grandfather was weak in English and Vivek often laughed at some of the spelling errors his grandfather committed while playing Scrabble. The laughter would haunt Devdutt for a long time.

Her father often looked at his grandson in an accusatory way. Guilt and impotence rose to produce a violent torrent in his mind. They were alone at home. Tenderness took over him and he quietly approached Vivek. Her father sank to his knees, his eyes on the feet of his grandson. Crawling on all fours towards him, he raised his hand and caught his foot in an upward stroke. Vivek lost his balance and was about to fall on the floor. His grandfather raised his other hand to his hips and saved him from falling. He put his head down and nibbled the back of his legs. His mouth trembled at the tenderness of his flesh. He closed his eyes, letting his fingers dig into his waist.

The rigidness of Vivek’s shocked body, the silence of his stunned throat was better than Vivek’s careless laughter. The confused mixture of Vivek and doing a wild, unimaginable thing excited him and a bolt of desire ran down his genitals, giving it length. Surrounding all this was a border of protectiveness but he could not be protective him while trying to impose ‘discipline’. The young Vivek seemed to have fainted. He rushed to the kitchen and sprinkled some water on him. He stood up and saw his grayish liquid on his body. Again, her father felt a hatred mix with tenderness. The hatred for his grandson would not let him pick his grandson up. The tenderness forced him to cover him.

Savitri got home earlier than usual that day. She saw Vivek crying and saw marks on his face and scars on his hands. She questioned her father and he just dismissed it saying Vivek had got into a fight with local neighbours. She rushed to phone the police when her father aggressively cut the phone lines and snapped at her. They started yelling at each other. The unbearable noise made the neighbours call the police. ‘Leave,’ she said sternly and walked to his room. She packed his bags and pushed him out of the house. Her father kept trying to reach her on phone and once he threatened her by saying he was going to find her and kill her. Savitri called the police and he was charged for making threats.

Eventually, things became quieter. Savitri found another place to live and her father was asked not to visit her. She had got court protections. Recently, she took Vivek to the counsellor. The counsellor had been polite and asked Vivek how he felt about everything. Vivek hadn’t spoken to his grandfather for several months. He didn’t know if he wanted to or not and she told him it wasn’t necessary. In those three weeks, Savitri looked stressed out and Harish assured her that she had done the right thing. She was glad that her father couldn’t get close to Vivek. Though at this point in time, Savitri was still unsure if she must tell her colleagues at the college about this. 

P.S.: This prompt based on "The Home and the World" was posted under the BlogBuddy Mavericks Challenger Series in response to the challenge thrown by Omkar  

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Anandayi

[Women as a person or social agency of power is invariably deified before she is valued and the methodology of her worship literally iconises her. This tale remarks on the domestic hierarchy and the control of female's life by the male. This story is collected from the former South Arcot district (which is now divided into Villupuram and Cuddalore districts of Tamil Nadu) The title of this story is Anandayi. Anandayi is a Goddess represented by a face made out of flour paste, on a coconut that is placed on a pot. She has no specific form or temple of her own. Offerings are made to her at midnight, following the worship of the family deity. Men do not worship Anandayi. Tales about Anandayi are often recounted in clusters.]

 A husband and wife lived in a place called Vadapaakam. One day, the husband who had gone out came back to eat his meal. His wife was then in the brinjal garden. She hurried in when her husband called her. Her sari got caught in a thorny plant. She tried to untangle it, it was not possible to do so in a hurry. 'Chee! Let go of my cloth,' she urged the plant. She spoke these words as she thought her husband would be waiting impatiently.

Her words fell into her husband's ears. He thought she was talking to a man and demanded suspiciously, 'Who was that?' 'No one,' she said. He did not believe her. He dragged her around and beat her. She was fatally hurt and died. From then on, for seven generations, no girl was born in that family. Everyone in that clan would gather year after year and fill seven winnowing fans with many things and make an offering. Girls were born to them only after that.

This tale is sourced from the anthology, "Hundred Tamil Folk and Tribal Tales" translated by Sujatha Vijayaraghavan published by Orient Blackswan. For more tales like these, you can buy a copy of the  book here:

book here

Sunday, 22 November 2015

In Memoriam: Guruvayur Kesavan


The temple town of Guruvayur in Thrissur district of Kerala is a storyteller’s delight. The town which is home to several popular legends smells of faith in every nook and corner and stands at an interesting crossroad where myths intersect with history. An integral part of temples in Kerala are its elephants. Elephants are loved, revered, groomed and accorded their importance in the colourful cultural life in Kerala, since most temples in the state rear their own elephants. Guruvayur has its own Aana Kottaram (an elephant palace) where 57 elephants are reared. Many of these elephants are often donated by devotees and the elephants are cared for by way of offerings received at the main Guruvayur temple.


The concrete statue of Kesavan standing tall
Among all the elephants in Kerala, the most popular is undoubtedly Guruvayur Kesavan. He is perhaps the most famous and celebrated elephants of Kerala. He was donated by the Valiya Raja of Nilambur when he was 10 in 1916 in fulfillment of a vow. At his age, he was not active as other elephants. After being fed rice balls and butter, the elephant started fasting on the auspicious day of Ekadashi. The head priest at the temple and the elephant’s mahout were surprised to notice this unusual practice. The Ekadashi in Guruvayur is celebrated with much fanfare with an elephant race. The winner of the elephant race would be honoured by carrying the idol of Lord Krishna on his back. It was during one such elephant race when Kesavan emerged as the winner. Kesavan won the elephant race for several years.

A noble and kind elephant, he was known for bending his front legs only before those who would carry the Lord’s idol, to enable them to climb on him, while the others who held the royal umbrellas etc. had to climb on his back from his hind legs. His sincerity and devotion surprised many and it was due to his unwavering devotion that he was rewarded with the epithet: ‘Gajarajan’ (The Elephant King), which was prefixed to his name by the temple authorities in 1973. As he began ageing, Kesavan was tied 32 km away from the temple town of Guruvayur, he still managed to break free from the shackles and ran towards the temple to carry the Lord. It was during this elephant race when Kesavan came second in the elephant race. To cheer him up, they made him join the race but the adamant Kesavan bent forward graciously and carried the idol on his back. The will of the Gods revealed that Kesavan was the most favourite elephant of Lord Guruvayurappan.

‘Gajendra Moksham’ is an episode in the eighth chapter of the Srimad Bhagavatham which is narrated by Suka to Yudhisthira’s grandson, Parikshith. It revolves around the struggle of Gajendra, the elephant who was battling against a crocodile at a lake at the foothills of Trikuta ranges. The crocodile tries to drag the elephant into deeper waters while Gajendra is playing in the shallow recesses of the river. The battle between the crocodile and the elephant is said to have lasted a thousand years, during which the crocodile gains the upper hand over the elephant. Gajendra, at the end of his wits and strength, turns to pray to the Lord. The prayer of Gajendra is often used to symbolise the supremacy of complete surrender (sharanagati). Kesavan can be called as the Gajendra of Kaliyuga since he was blessed to be the Lord’s favourite elephant.


December 2, 1976 marked the auspicious Guruvayur Ekadashi. Kesavan was fasting that day and when the idol of the Lord was placed on his back, he began shivering and wabbled while walking, causing the idol to be placed on another elephant. Kesavan did a pradakshina around the temple and was taken to the temple compound where he lay with his trunk stretched towards the Lord, before he collapsed to the ground, 54 years after serving the Lord faithfully. His tusks can still be seen adorning the entrance of the main temple enclosure in Guruvayur. The unique tale of Kesavan shows that even in death, he commanded the adulation of all those who surrounded him.
The tusks of Kesavan at the entrance of the Guruvayur Temple


It is often said that a human without bhakti is equal to dust and even bacteria with bhakti is equal to a Mahatma. In recognition of his service to the temple, the authorities commissioned a 12 feet concrete statue, which is located at the entrance of the Sreevalsom Guest House in the southern side of the temple. At 72, standing tall at 3.2 metres, Kesavan still continues to live in the hearts and memories of people who speak of him fondly. When devotees arrive at Guruvayur, they are reminded of his loyalty and devotion by way of his tusks which are placed at the entrance of the temple. Today being Guruvayur Ekadashi, I hope this post works as a fitting memorial to a unique devotee.

P.S.: The post has been written along with Shravanthi Premkumar