Showing posts from 2013

National Railway Museum

The railways were first introduced in the Indian subcontinent from Bombay to Thane, a modest 34 km journey. In 1951, the railway system was nationalised as one unit, known today as the Indian Railways, becoming one of the world's largest networks. Today, Indian Railways is the world's ninth largest commercial or utility employers, by number of employees. Hence, it would not be wrong to say that India has had a rich railway heritage. 

The static exhibition of railway relics began in the late nineteenth century when items from the early days of the railways were put aside, rather than being discarded or sold as scrap. To such men goes the credit for the preservation of early railway history. The first museum devoted purely to the railways is said to be that of Hamar, in Norway as it was set up in 1896. John Westwood in his book Railway Preservation writes, "One of the world's most beautifully situated museums. Its collections include documents, pictures, track and signal…

ON AIR: The HAL Museum

As India emerges as one of the fastest growing aviation sectors worldwide, the absence of dedicated aviation museums in India are a huge disappointment. India's aviation history goes back to 1932 when J.R.D. Tata, flew an airplane from Karachi to Bombay. Hence, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum in Bangalore is a pleasant surprise for an aviation enthusiast. The HAL Heritage Centre and Aerospace Museum is open for the general public and also permits photography at very minimal costs.

The unique museum was formulated by Dr. Krishnadas Nair, the then chairperson of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, one of Asia's largest aerospace companies. It was formally inaugurated on August 30, 2001. Through meticulous descriptions and carefully illustrated exhibits, the museum narrates the tale of India's aviation progress and in particular, maps the growth and progress of HAL. The museum, with its extensive collection of aircrafts and two mock-ups,…

Book Review: Randamoozham

Book: Randamoozham

Author: M.T. Vasudevan Nair

ISBN: 9788122608311

Pages: 300

The Mahabharata defines the Indian literary sphere. As an introductory statement in the original Sanskrit version states: "The tree of the Bharata (Mahabharata) inexhaustible to mankind as the clouds, shall be a source of livelihood to all distinguished poets." In hindsight, one realises the truth in such a prophetic statement made by Vyasa. While the Mahabharata has had multiple retellings and interpretations in Indian languages, in Malayalam, the Mahabharata finds a perspective in Bhima, the mightiest of the Pandavas. 

Randamoozham begins from the point where Krishna is not such a revered figure but a local king who failed to take revenge on Jarasandha and instead uses Bhima to seek revenge. We have known him as the second Pandava, the mightiest of the five, unequaled in wielding the mace, a fine general in war, a ruthless adversary, a fierce warrior who made every one afraid by his very presence. Her…

Book Review: The Pregnant King

Book: The Pregnant King

Author: Dr. Devdutt Pattanaik

Publisher: Penguin

ISBN: 9780143063476

Pages: 360

Hindu mythology holds many important events and stories which have often been handed down generation after generation as part of society's ways and norms. The story of King Yuvanashva and his unique story is validated in the Harivamsa and some of the Puranas. However, the Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana tell his extraordinary story about him.

The popular and just ruler of Vallabhi, King Yuvanashva, is an obedient son and an equally devoted husband to his wives. However, even the happiest of homes have secret tragedies hidden in their midst. Yuvanashva, a King who is denied his right to sitting on the throne by his own mother because he fails to produce an heir to the throne, even after having three wives. As a result, Shilavati, the king’s mother, refuses to give him permission to join the famous battle of Kurukshetra as the king is unable to sire a worthy heir for his throne despi…

Book Review: Mahabharata

Publisher: Penguin

Author: R.K. Narayan

Pages: 208

ISBN: 9780141185002 

The Mahabharata is some 3500 years old and is the longest epic poem in existence. As one of the founding epics of Indian culture, it is also a highly dramatic and enthralling story. Growing from an oral tradition of ballads based on historic events in India, the Mahabharata was passed down and extended through the centuries, thus becoming the longest poem ever written. One of the many narratives about the Mahabharata is by R.K. Narayan. His version provides a superb rendition in an abbreviated and elegant retelling of the greatest epic. 

The Mahabharata is Hinduism's great epic story. It may be the oldest written story in the world, and certainly the longest. It tells the tale of kings and queens, gods and demons. It goes off on tangents lasting hundreds of pages, yet always comes back to the one main story, the story of the Kauravas and the Pandavas, the two great warrior clans, and the men and women whose lives a…

Book Review: Vishnu Sahasranamam

Publisher: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust

Author: Swami Chinmayananda 

Pages: 266

ISBN: 9788175972452 

Every human being has some inner conception of God, which is formed or fuelled by selective interpretations depending on the environment, experiences and temperament an individual is associated with. The Vishnu Sahasranamam, is a stotra containing the 1000 names of Lord Vishnu. During the interaction between Yudhisthira and Bheeshma after the Mahabharata war, the Vishnu Sahasranamam was revealed by Bheeshma Pitamaha in the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata as he awaits his death on the bed of arrows. 

The Vishnu Sahasranamam summarises in 1000 names all the attributes and deduced facts about God. Students and scholars of Indian philosophy often start with the Vishnu Sahasranamam along with an incisive commentary of Adi Sankaracharya which enables a person to understand the concept of God in Hinduism in one go.

Broadly speaking, the Upanishads form the core principles of Vedanta, a branch of …

Book Review: The Bhagavad Gita

Publisher: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust

ISBN: 9788175970748

Author: Swami Chinmayananda

Pages: 1273

The Bhagavad Gita is the core text of Hinduism. In its entire flow, the Bhagavad Gita is fairly simple and straightforward. It opens with the Pandava prince Arjuna preparing to lead his troops into battle and develops cold feet upon seeing mnay of his family members in the opposition ranks. He feels it is a sin to kill so many great men such as his teacher, his grandfather who are part of the opposition. 

Despite Arjuna preparing for the war, haunted by the guilt of killing his relatives, he drops his bow and succumbs to the situation by proposing escapist tendencies. Krishna, the charioteer of the Pandava prince understands his plight and for motivating him, begins the long discourse called "The Bhagavad Gita" and tells him about the reality of Yoga, soul, meditation, life, death and reincarnation. While we would be tempted to perceive the narrator of the Gita as the blue-eyed b…

Book Review: Mrityunjaya

Book: Mrityunjaya

Author: Shivaji Sawant

Pages: 628

ISBN: 7421-0105

It is often said that the books of our childhood offer a vivid door to our own pasts, and not necessarily for the stories we read there, but for the memories of where we were and who we were when we were reading them; to remember a book is to remember the child who read that book. The timelessness of the epic is witnessed as we continue to name our children after various characters in the Mahabharata. The brave feats of the epic’s warriors still continue to shape our dreams and inspire our films.

The Marathi novel "Mrityunjaya" is a classic novel written by Shivaji Sawant on the life of Karna, the greatest tragic hero in Indian history. Despite being dedicated to the life and times of the benign hero, it highlights significant characters from the Mahabharata and also a socio-political frame of the time. To begin with, Karna is the eldest son of the Pandava queen Kunti and Surya, the sun God. Due to Kunti's fe…

Book Review: Mahabharata

Publisher: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan

Author: Kamala Subramaniam

Pages: 870

ISBN: 9788172764050 

The story of the Mahabharata is an invaluable legacy for both the old and young. Keeping in mind the same, the version by Kamala Subramaniam that begins with the meeting of Ganga and Shantanu. The book moves ahead as it describes their marriage and Ganga drowning seven children until Shantanu asks her the reason for doing so. From there, the story progresses through the lives of Satyavati, Dhritarashtra, Pandu and the Pandava and Kaurava princes. It eventually concludes with the entry of the Pandavas into heaven. 

This version by Kamala Subramaniam published by the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan does a marvellous job of translating and abridging the Mahabharata. At 870 pages, the book is an excellent page-turner despite its numerous stories going on tangents. As a writer, she tends to write in short, jerky sentences, using adjectives and adverbs in abundance. She spills the melodrama left, right and centre…

Their Words, Our Minds

In media studies, Paul Lazarsfeld gives us the concept of ‘two-step flow theory’ in which he believes: “in a society there co-exist two types of people: opinion leaders and opinion followers.” He explains that to convince the masses, one must convince the leaders. If one compares Lazarsfeld’s theory to columnists and their followers, we see that columnists act as opinion leaders who have the power to shape public opinion through their words. The aspect and dimensions that a columnist persuades his or her readers to see determine which way popular opinion moves. They can reinforce or re-form popular attitudes. Modern psychology states that the human mind responds positively to stimuli that are favourable to him/her and the adverse is usually ignored or rejected. The smart and powerful know this pattern of behaviour of society too well and use mass communication to serve themselves or their causes. Typically, most people consume information that reinforces their viewpoints. It is less fr…

The 9:14 Local

June 26, 2010. I was resuming work after a year. I had not noticed her on the first day, nor on the second, or the third and for quite some time in the 9:14 Vashi local to Mumbai CST. I noticed her a week later. She sat opposite me by the window and snoozed while keeping her copy of Midnight's Children on her lap. The journey to Mumbai CST is nearly 35 minutes long and it always feels nice when a familiar face travels along. 

The First Class compartment was jam-packed and I had not landed a seat as usual. I stood sandwiched between a man and a young girl. Travelling since 1999 had made me a veteran and a self-proclaimed expert in commuting. I was quite used to being crushed by other passengers, just as every Mumbaikar who has ever travelled by a local train is. The train now halted at Tilaknagar where three ladies and a young boy in tattered clothes got in. The boy had a lot of confidence despite most of the commuters passing cringed looks. He moved around the compartment from one …

Cochin Harbour Terminus

A chilling silence welcomes you as one negotiates through a deserted parking lot. Stepping in to an old structure such as the Cochin Harbour Terminus conjures up visions of a bygone era when the world had a greater sense of gratitude for time and place. The only sound one gets to hear most often in this building are the echoes of one's footsteps. Memories of another day, when this structure once represented the lifeline and spirit of Cochin flood one's mind. True, structurally the Cochin Harbour Terminus is not an architectural wonder but one cannot help notice the sense of loss, remorse and guilt that engulfs someone each time one passes by this dilapidated building, which today is just a shadow of its former glory.
The exact date about the inception of the station is not known due to non-availability of records. However, memories estimate it to be around 1940s when the Cochin Harbour Terminus was a station under the Olavakode (present day Palakkad division) of the erstwhile S…

St. Andrews Church

Walk and you shall find,

Listen and you shall now..

Armed with these two commandments for successful travel, I went out to Bandra seeking to explore more about the St. Andrew's Church. The walk in itself was pretty much a success (or so I would like to believe) considering it left me with rich legends, anecdotes and visual memories of the Bandra that venture beyond history books. Bandra is a fine place to explore that opens up wonderful opportunities to discerning eyes and keen ears. 
There is a solemn beauty in the silence of death and St. Andrew's Church in Bandra reveals this. St. Andrew's Church is one of the oldest surviving churches in the suburb built in 1575 by Jesuit priests and remained the only church in Bandra till 1620. Structurally, the altar of the church extends almost to the roof which carries statues of Sacred Heart, Our Lady and St. Andrew. In addition, there are smaller statues of St. John the Baptist, St. Sebastian. 
There are rows of tombstones that have …

A Walk in Bandra

Bandra remains one of the lesser explored but more interesting parts of Mumbai, tempting its visitors with a unique mix of history, architecture, traditional "gaothans", the glitz of the Hindi film industry and also boasting some of the best shopping spots in the city. 

The suburb of Bandra is a fine village comprising around 20 hamlets that were originally known in Marathi as "pakhadis". Bandra consisted of Sherly, Malla, Rajan, Kantwady, Waroda, Ranwar, Boran, Pali and Chuium. The earliest records of Bandra are from the mid 1500's, when the Portuguese gave the Jesuit priests the islands of Bandra, Sion, Wadala and Parel. 

The Portuguese built several churches in Bandra, many of which are still in use today. Bandra remained a village with plantations of rice and vegetables, until it was connected to Mahim by a causeway in 1845. Many bungalows were built here between the years of 1860s and 1870s.  

Today, we explore Ranwar, a century old East Indian village right …


It was nearing 16:40 pm and the sun's rays were shifting towards the west. I was on platform nine staring at people running to catch the much-desired window seats of the Thane slow and the Asangaon Fast. My attention was diverted due to blaring horns of a diesel engine that was shunting in the rakes of the Mumbai--Pune Deccan Queen Express from the yard. Regular commuters, travelling back to Pune, were waiting below the indicators marking the coaches. 

My ticket read: "Coach D3, Seat: 99" and I occupied my seat. The clamour for seats in this train was always high. Thankfully, I had occupied my seat well in time. In an attempt to drown out the noise, I pretended to sleep which was often rendered futile due to the noise. Announcements were made about the train being ready to depart from platform number nine of Mumbai CST and I noticed the time on my watch 17:10 p.m. sharp. 

As the train slowed down at Thane, I decided to take a short walk in the compartment. Surprisingly, th…

Lady Frere's Shrine

It is often said that the modernization of Bombay began under the regime of Sir Bartle Frere, who as the Governor of Bombay transformed the island city with a natural harbour inhabited by merchants into a splendid and populous city. It is often said that this period of Bartle Frere was the most important period for the modernization of the city. One of the few good things that the British did for the city was construct these beautiful public edifices and structures that rendered the city of Mumbai in natural beauty. These buildings which would later contribute to the permanent convenience and a shade of legacy that would encourage tourism in the long run. 
The general architecture in Bombay had been seen as a standing reproach. The beauties and noticeable features were due to the "bounty of nature" and people had hardly done anything to enhance its beauty by constructing stately buildings or erecting statues. While insisting upon the necessity of sculpture Bartle Frere said t…

100 Years of Wisdom

This year 2013 marks the 100 years of Indian cinema. Movies empower audiences with the ability to visualize new scenarios and even new places. Together, we recognize that movies have been an integral part of the social milieu of Indian society. The past 100 years have had its fair share of learning that anyone could take home after watching a movie. As we celebrate 100 years, it would only be fair to say that they have certainly left an indelible mark on the history of celluloid. Here are the some top lessons that Hindi cinema has taught us over the past century:
* Indian airport security is sensitive to the demands of young boys and girls who wish to propose to the girl of their choice at the boarding gate. 
* Guns do not kill people. They just make them drunk, groggy and angrier.
* Reincarnations are essentially clones of the same person born even after their "death" .
* All the thoughts of a person's mind are narrated loudly by an invisible celestial fairy
* Hot girls give…