Doling Out Unsolicited Advice


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Radha Prathi, March 29, 2015,

It is said that unsolicited advice is the most abundant resource of mankind. Let alone other people, don’t we find ourselves spewing suggestions and instructions at the drop of the hat. We seem to be having a panacea for just about everything under the sun ranging from simple colds to nuke deals.

We never seem to think twice before voicing our opinions. We are almost always blissfully insensitive to the fact that the recipient of our free verbose may not really relish what we have to say.

Sometimes even those we consider very close to us may also not quite appreciate our unwarranted interference in a personal affair. Our intentions may be genuine and our submission may be in right earnest.

Yet not many beyond our inner circles of family and friends may appreciate our sincere intent. In such a case, the reaction of the end receiver of our words may range from a rankling grimace to a rude rebuttal. Sometimes, it is likely that they might misconstrue pursuance and crave for vengeance.

A story from the Panchatantra enumerates this aspect of human behaviour ever so well. It was a rainy evening. The sparrows had settled down cozily in their nests. At that time, a very wet monkey hurriedly jumped on to one of the branches and started cursing the lousy wet weather and how he did not have a decent shelter. The sparrows that had seen him frolicking throughout the year without doing an ounce of work sat in their nests and quietly watched the tantrum of the simian.

One sparrow was irritated by his behaviour and reprimanded the animal for being irresponsible. She told him categorically that he should have created or at least identified a shelter for himself for a rainy day. When the petulant monkey shrugged off the heartfelt advice and was rude to the sparrow, she could not take it lying down. Soon an altercation followed.

The hotheaded monkey who was cold, wet and hungry simply pounced on the nest of the bird which housed her eggs and toppled it right off the tree.

The damage had been done. No amount of lamenting from the well-meaning bird could make up for the irrevocable loss that she had undergone. The monkey exited from the scene without displaying an iota of remorse for his behaviour or sympathy towards the candid, kind and well meaning sparrow.

Those of us who dole out voluntary views unthinkingly like the sparrow, to people who misread our intentions are likely to be hurt, humiliated or harmed for being insensitive to the insensible nature of hotheaded people.

Welcome To A New Beginning


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Radha Prathi, March 20, 2015, DHNS

Start the traditional new year with some decorative ideas to help take the rut out of long-followed festival traditions, says Radha Prathi

Tomorrow will see a change in the Saturday routine of most families – some will wake up early – to offer special prayers, to cook sumptuous meals and welcome or visit dear ones. But more importantly, all these activities will be preceded by (from tonight, in all probability) a round of complete and thorough cleaning of the house. Why?

Because it is Ugadi, the new year and a new beginning. Traditional Indians who follow the lunar calendar are all set to celebrate their very own indigenous new year. Since we spend the best part of the day at home on this auspicious occasion, entertaining our dear ones, it is always a good idea to do up our space to earmark the festivities.

Even if you happen to be living in a gated community or apartment complex and choose to celebrate the festivals in the common community hall or basement, you can still create an amiable and traditional atmosphere, which will give a glimpse of our culture and creativity. Here are a few ideas that you can work upon this new year:The ground rule for any decor begins with cleaning up the premises thoroughly.

Take stock of items like photographs, wall clocks, curtains, bedspreads, cabinets, crockery, furniture, among other things, and rearrange them within your home. You can feel a sense of freshness by simply changing their locations in your surroundings. If you have a pile of unused gifts and new items, bring them out of hibernation and use them appropriately. This exercise will spread a positive energy for it will make you realise how loved you are, whenever you associate the articles with the person who presented it to you.

Rummage your closet and fish out the photographs taken on previous Ugadis or rare pictures of family and friends, and display them at vantage points. If you have one too many pictures, it will be a good idea to make a scrap board of them. Creating a nostalgic conversation piece can prove to be therapeutic.

Add some colour

A colourful rangoli at the doorstep and one in front of the deities is considered a must in our culture. We will be welcoming manmatha samvatsara this Ugadi. So you will do well to include the name of the year in a semicircular form at the head of the rangoli. If you are pressed for time or ability, use it to your advantage. Draw the outline of the writing and design with a chalk or a crayon.

This method will help you erase and make corrections as and when necessary. Fill the outlines and segments with flowers and leaves or food grains. Sea shells, sequins, shredded cloth waste can also be used alternately. Light some traditional diyas or fragrant tea light candles around the rangoli towards dusk to enhance the ambience.

Put up a traditional thorana of fresh mango leaves and bracket it with a bunch of neem leaves at your doorstep. Long lengths of marigold or artificial flowers can be used to drape the frame of the main door to enhance the festive look.

You could arrange flowers in vases and intersperse them between the pots. Or you could very simply stick little bunches of neem leaves in the wet soil of the pots for a change. If you have potted plants and shrubs, place them around the living area and outside the prayer room. You could trail serial lights over these plants. Stick lighted incense sticks in the pots. Not only will this exercise create a fragrant atmosphere, but also keep the mosquitoes at bay.

Lay out the food

The prasada and food items that are meant for sharing and distributing can be arranged tastefully, adding to the decor. Clear your dining table, push it against the wall for a day and use it as your decorative handyman. Place several bottles of drinking water and some trays along the wall.

Display you prized crystal or silverware or some fancy bowl by keeping the traditional bevu bella (neem and jaggery) in it. Sliced and serrated mango slices could be arranged like the petals of a flower around a little bowl consisting of salt and chilli powder. The holige could be folded as cones and placed one over other forming little conical pyramids.

Dishes like payasam, pachchadi and kosambari will look very appealing if stored in glass or silverware. Keep a bowl of cashew nuts ready so that you can dress your payasam every time you scoop some out. Do not forget to garnish the pachchadi and kosambari with curry leaves time and again. Paper cups and plates could be placed along the borders of the table.

Traditional tamboolam items can double up as Ugadi decor with a little imagination. Clear a table for this purpose. Instead of using a regular table cloth, bring out that lovely silk sari with intricate zari work and spread it over the table. Cover the sari with a clear plastic sheet so that it will not get stained or damaged. It is time to use your silver, crystal, brass or fancyware to keep haldi, kumkum, akshata, betel leaves, betel nuts, flowers, coconuts and fruits.

Arrange the items tastefully in floral patterns on large plates or trays in the order of their use. You could leave a couple of beautiful trays alongside. These items have a tendency to leave some dregs behind. Make sure that you wipe the tray every time before the next use. If you are planning to give gifts to your visitors, remember to wrap them in happy colours. And how about stacking them on the table?

Voice of Truth


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Though minding one’s own business should be our guiding mantra, there are times when it is expected of us to pitch in to solve a setback or resolve a crisis especially when it is looming large right in front of us.

We must realise that there is a lot of difference between finding faults and righting wrongs. It takes a lot of clarity and integrity to point out slip-ups and guide the problem to a logical solution.

How many times have we not hesitated to voice our opinions or thoughts in an ongoing scuffle or an altercation? The reasons could be many.

Perhaps, we do not want to interfere in a matter that does not involve us. Otherwise, maybe the apprehension of meeting dire consequences could prove to be an obstacle. Sometimes we end up being wishy-washy because we are closet opportunists waiting to find out which side of the bread is buttered.

The thought of hurting the other person could hold us back. Or, we may be very simply lacking in courage and conviction and hence prefer to play the role of the wallpaper.
It takes a lot of clarity and integrity to point out slip-ups and guide the problem to a logical solution without fear or favour.

In the Mahabharata, Vidura the prime minister in the court of the Kuru dynasty stands testimony to this character.

When the royal house planned that the blind prince Dhritarashtra should be crowned as king, Vidura categorically objected to the stance citing clauses from contemporary political science.

When Dhritarashtra and his sons wanted to invite the sons of Pandu for a game of dice, Vidura condemned the suggestion as demeaning and ignoble.

When Kaurava brothers humiliated Draupadi by trying to disrobe her, Vidura warned the wrongdoers to do penance for the unbecoming act. When the great war of Kurukshetra became imminent, Vidura counselled the royal house to consider the peace treaty proposed by Krishna.

Time and again, Vidura prevailed on the minds of the people whom he was associated with and tried to clean the cobwebs in their minds. Vidura succeeded in his mission infrequently.

Yet the low rate of his success did not deter him from expressing his opinions and fingering the conscience of his associates.

Vidura can be our role model in these trying times. It is not enough if we know right from wrong.

It is important to implement our knowledge. Mahatma Gandhi has also affirmed that people putting up with or witnessing injustice are equivalent to being party to it.

To Make It A Friendlier Place For Women


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Radha Prathi, March 14, 2015, DHNS

Indian mythology resonates with instances of respect and love for women. In the current situation, it is apt that we revisit those tales and draw on some much-needed inspiration for gender sensitivity

India is certainly a land of controversies. On one hand, we treat our women like goddesses and on the other hand, we think of them merely as instruments that salvage and replenish the male ego. We have reached a stage where we cringe at the idea of begetting daughters, simply because they are considered liabilities or they challenge our ability to give them a normal life in this big bad world.

Even most of the educated folks prefer to have a male heir to inherit their assets, family name and facilitate a passage to the next world. In such a scenario, women who get to live life spiritedly, with dignity and on their own terms seem to fall into the minority category.

The world has woken to this grim reality time and again and has slumbered right back into hibernation. India has started working proactively in this direction right from the beginning of this year. The Beti Bachao, Beti Padao Andolan could not have been timed better. The Prime Minister roped in popular actress Madhuri Dixit as the ambassador for promoting this awareness campaign. The actress, the quintessential Indian woman, is a commendable example of what a woman can achieve, despite stemming from the great Indian middle class.

Pro-women

Today, more than ever before, we in the Indian subcontinent should recall some fabulous instances from our epics and mythology. King Janaka of Mithila did not think twice about adopting the baby girl he happened to stumble upon while ploughing the field. He took her in and imparted to her all the skills a princess was entitled to. He ensured that she
wedded the most competent man by setting the tall task of stringing the bow of Lord Shiva. King Janaka was known for his implicit faith in the Sanatana dharma. Yet his kind and generous spirit made him embrace the little girl of unknown origin without any ado. He gave her lasting values that made her a role model, who is worshipped to date as Mata Sita.

King Kunti Bhoja was childless. When it was time for him to adopt a child to fill the lacuna in his life, he chose to adopt Pritha, his cousin’s daughter. He trained her in all forms of arts and skills. Kunti went on to become one of the wisest women, who laid the cornerstone to the kingdom of Hastinapura. If Kunti Bhoja had adopted a son, the world would not have had a glimpse of a resilient woman who braved all odds with utmost grace.

If these examples aren’t enough, read about the large-heartedness of Sage
Kanva. He took in a girl child, abandoned by Sage Vishwamitra and Menaka, and named her Shakuntala. He didn’t disown her even when he discovered that she was carrying King Dushyanta’s child. He arranged for their union and didn’t disappoint his daughter when she needed him the most.

Imitation is certainly the best form of flattery. So, if we profess even an iota of genuine admiration towards these ennobling personalities, we can create channels for emulating them and create an ideal world for all the women.

Last week at this time there was a sudden wave of rediscovery about the great achievements of women on several fronts. All the issues that have been
bothering female species were reviewed. The media had a field day, reporting about the latest crimes against women.

Statistics continued to unfold as to how every waking hour recorded female foeticide, female infanticide, molestation, sexual abuse, incest, rape, female genital mutilation, dowry harassment and death, among other such atrocities against women, across the globe. Promises, resolutions, both genuine and otherwise, were made; people vowed to make the planet a friendlier place for women. You see, it was women’s day.

While many women celebrated the day singled out for them, there are many more that don’t even know of the significance of the special day. If one takes a closer look at the difference between the ones who know and the ones who don’t, it will be easy to see that there is not much of a distinction. For life goes on in more or less the same way after the day has passed.

Education Can Stop Animal Sacrifice


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It was a sunny summer morning in the Himalayan valley. The whole village of Solang Nala was geared up for the annual fare. A jostling colourful and noisy crowd appeared magically from behind the little mounds, hills and rocks. Men, women and children emerged in twos and threes and greeted one another and regrouped themselves to share their views, cares and happiness of life.

IMG_0273

People, cattle, homes and little streets decked up for the occasion. Native music played on indigenous instruments added to the fervour of the celebration. The smell of incense, fresh flowers and torches burning on ghee wicks perfumed the mountain air. It was that time of the year to appease Naga Devatha and the other little gods who guarded their lives and property in the treacherous terrain.

An elaborate ritual was conducted at the designated temple site. Then, a wonderfully bedecked, nine headed serpent goddess was carried out of the premises by sterling young men on an open palanquin from the nearby temple. A procession of devoted crowd plodded on amidst much fanfare and music. People rushed to offer her fresh flowers and lengths of cloth as a mark of their respect.

The goddess went around the hamlet before entering the precincts of the home of the chief devotee. There was another round of ritual welcome performed in full public view of the members of the family, the denizens of the village and also the tourists and trekkers who found the whole exercise very fascinating. Incidentally, members of the host family ensured that every visitor and stranger to the valley was invited to the feast that would follow right after the function.

Cameras and online operations were kept busy. Locals who could speak English and Hindi were in demand to explain the proceedings. The host family ensured that everyone in the audience was invited for the feast later in the day. Everything seemed to be happening like clockwork, till a young, white, bathed and garlanded lamb was dragged into the scene literally.

A gory spectacle
A pin drop silence ensued, as the priest sanctified the helpless and uncooperative animal. Onlookers, mostly outsiders who stood in the periphery were a divided lot. Some kept their cameras ready while the other walked away. The sheep was slaughtered amidst bated breath. The head rolled on one side still throbbing with life and the body straddled on the earth writhing in pain. Blood splattered everywhere and on some people, even as the priest was busy anointing the life fluid on the foreheads of devotees and on the doorstep of the home.

The natives appeared to be at ease amidst the happenings. Those who shunned the scene walked away with mixed feelings. A young girl in our group was traumatised, another threw up out of sheer disgust while yet another vowed to not to participate in the feast that ensued. Every one appeared to be very disturbed and was rendered helpless by the barbaric incident. So was I. Yet, I did not feel judgmental about the villagers.

On the other hand, I was very surprised to note that 90 per cent of the people who made these comments included meat and poultry in their meals. I really wondered how many of them connected the delectable dishes that they polished off their plates to have been bonnie gamboling living beings before being cut, chopped, steamed, roasted, and fried.

I am sure that if they had spent even a few minutes, thinking on these lines, they would not have reacted the way they did. Perhaps, the shock of seeing the animal throb to death as its blood ebbed away unnerved them. I did not voice my thought at that point because I did not want to ruffle feathers in an already disturbed gathering by flying a flag for vegetarians and vegans.

True, it was a gory spectacle and certainly a very repugnant one for the denizens of twenty first century’s civilised society. It is high time that such practices are retired as redundant. Yet, it was very plain to see that these people of the valley were completely in awe of and in tune with Mother Nature. They did not display an iota of guilt or signs of vicarious satisfaction on witnessing the scene.

The sight filled them with a sense of hope and fervour. They had collectively offered the lamb to the goddess to appease her and to protect their families, cattle and lands from natural threats like landslides, avalanches, snakebites and attacks from the beasts in the wilderness.

In their eyes, the lamb was a martyr and a representative of the sacred. The life of the lamb equalled the number of lives that could be possibly lost and the crops that could be destroyed. Their principle in sacrificing the lamb can be comparable to the adage, “A stitch in time saves nine.” Maybe, a little education and exposure could cleanse them of their ignorance and change their ways. It is only a matter of time. Nevertheless, the challenge lies in sensitising people who seldom see beyond their range of vision.

Venom of Manthara


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There are times when people wonder why they have been handed out a raw deal in life by the very people they are closely associated with.

People could be shortchanged or made to feel the hurtful brunt for inexplicable reasons. Yet logic, science and the Karma theory claim that each and every event in our lives can be put down to a cause. Hence, if the so-called unexpected or unimaginable occurrence is analysed syllogistically, it will be easy to fathom the reason.

Often, seemingly inconsequential acts or remarks, loose talk, friendly gossip and misunderstandings on our part can prove to be the stumbling blocks which can change the course of our lives entirely.
An incident from the Ramayana stands testimony to this trait of human behaviour.

When Rama was a very young boy, he used to enjoy practising archery on odd targets. The hunchback of queen Kaikeyi’s governess Manthara fascinated him no end. He used to aim at her humped back and shoot little balls of mud, whenever he found an opportunity.
The little prince’s achievement would be applauded by those around.
Though everyone found Rama’s activity to be amusing, Manthara felt extremely slighted. Perhaps her inferiority complex got the better of her as she registered her dislike for the crown prince. Later on, it was her unconditional love for Kaikeyi and her deep resentment towards Rama which prompted her to instigate the queen against her favourite child.

The handmaiden of the favourite queen of Dasharatha, reminded Kaikeyi of the long-forgotten boons promised to her by her husband when she had saved his life in the battlefield. Initially, Kaikeyi was totally against the bizarre idea.

Nevertheless Manthara highlighted the fact that the queen was being sidelined by the king of Ayodhya while he chose Rama to be his successor.

Manthara eventually succeeded in convincing Kaikeyi that she had been wronged and made her throw a self-righteous tantrum. It alarmed the king enough to promise Kaikeyi that her son Bharatha would be crowned as the next king of Ayodhya and also made him banish Rama to the forest albeit unwillingly.

At the outset, it appears as if Manthara was working purely in the interests of her queen. That aspect was primary and certainly cannot be negated.

Yet the fact remains that the loathing that she had nurtured for Rama was also a potent factor. She could not forget the Ikshavaku prince who had insulted her in his innocence.
It underlined her aggressive approach and advice to the queen which changed the course of events against the best laid plans.

It Is A Fair Argument


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Reflections

When I was seven, one of my pet peeves happened to be the colour of my skin. No one in the family loved me less or nurtured me less because I did not have a cream-and-peaches complexion. On the other hand, they always told me how some of our gods and goddesses who were represented in blue or green were actually the colour of dark rain-laden clouds. I was taught a song in which all things that were black were envied by objects that were of different colours because they could not match with Krishna. When I defiantly showed them a painting of Krishna as a large white baby done in Thanjavur style, I was hushed up with the theory of artistic liberty. When cajoling and coaxing me out of my fixation failed, I was firmly told that I should be working on my abilities and character instead of ruing about a natural trait which is only skin deep.

Yet, it bothered me all the time because my new classmate who went on to be my best friend had the skin tone I could die for. I observed her and zeroed in on what I thought was a major discovery. She had plain curds for lunch while I had it with rice. I promptly told my mother to alter my menu. It just left me hungrier with no impact on my skin. I moped for a while, deciding to give the experiment some more time. My family was amused. So was my friend’s family. One day, my friend saw me scooping a spoon of curds into my mouth and laughingly remarked how fair I had become. There was a ripple of laughter. That very moment, I decided to drop the idea of working on my colour and pay more attention to my studies. After that, there was no looking back at all. I am glad I went through this phase when I was just seven, and got out of it almost immediately. I have often recollected this anecdote with others who felt bothered by their swarthy looks and have sent across the message subtly and effectively.

Recently, I found that a young lady in my radar was in similar doldrums. I shared my experience with her. She promptly pointed out that our pantheon had become fair. She switched various channels which aired fairness creams and showed me how gods and mythological characters had blanched. It was interesting to note that characters whose names suggested the colour of their skin were represented by actors with a European skin tone. She even activated her smart phone and showed me several contemporary pictures of our gods. I remembered how these very characters, played by actors of yesteryears, would paint their bodies in blue to be in tune with the characters they played. I reasoned that artists must have given up this trend in order to protect their skin from harmful chemicals. Yet the trend did worry me.

She refused to buy my idea of self upgradation. Studying was out of question for her as she had graduated out of sheer obligation to her family. Little else seemed to interest her. She was ready to tie the knot, but all eligible bachelors wanted only gori brides. She looked genuinely disturbed.

Now I understood all the brouhaha about the obsession of the Indian subcontinent with fair skin. The passport which could land you in a great job, find you Mr Right, and generally win all the struggles of life hands down, especially if you belong to the fairer sex(!). If we, as a traditional god-fearing country, cannot allow our gods out of our deep-seated complexes, where does that leave us, mere mortals?

I now believe the quip of a feminist whose name I forget, who said, how if all the articles written on the subject are written on one long sheet, it will be possible to lay a biodegradable road for pixies and fairies to go to the moon and back. Let the tribe of people who condemn the fascination over fair complexion thrive.