My Tryst with Mahabharata


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Published in Story Mirror.

“What is found in the Mahabharata can be found elsewhere, but what is not found in the epic can seldom be found in the universe.”

This line perhaps had me hooked to the epic for a lifetime. I have read it several times and listened to many great scholars who speak on the subject. I have marveled at the plethora of situations in the epic which have served as reference points to various aspects of life across time and space. My involvement with the epic grew to a point where I started sensitizing young and not so young audiences to the relevance of the classic. It began with a series of talks and later on I started conducting sessions where people would call out a random word and I would connect it to one of the episodes of the epic.

With each passing session, the words got quirkier and were mostly sourced from contemporary lingo. To keep it short I would like to recollect the ones that captured my imagination the most.

For instance, once a young man came up with addiction and I narrated the instances from Yudhishtira’s life where his love for gambling led to crisis every single time he succumbed to his addiction.

Then there was this time when someone gave the word “Face Time” and I drew the attention of the seeker to the famous scene in a famous south Indian movie called Maya Bazaar where Abhimanyu and his lady love would have rendezvous by talking to each other on a mirror which would transform into a screen during “Face Time”.

When I was given the word “Deforestation” I had to narrate the entire epic, albeit briefly when I had to relate how Arjuna and Krishna set the Khandava forest on fire in order to construct Indraprastha. The prologue and the consequential aftermath of destroying the forest hold a mirror to the fact of how the spurned serpent king Takshaka turns tables on his assailant’s several generations down and stings Parikshith the grandson of Arjuna and thereby the rest of the world for decimating the forest and its inmates.

More recently during the lockdown, one of them wrote to me and asked me to relate “Self Isolation” with the epic. I jogged my memory a little and came up with the same tale of Parikshith who incurred a curse from sage Shringi to be dead in a week’s time from a snake bite. The petrified king thought out the situation pragmatically. He got a royal residence built on a tall tower and moved in. The food, drink, and even the very air that he breathed were scanned before being permitted into the premises. Takshaka (read novel coronavirus) managed to enter the premises in a lemon offered by a Brahmin and sting Parikshith. This episode speaks volumes of the power of Karma.

Everything is interconnected in the universe. Even if one strand of the web is violated, it can spell out doom to all its residents. We the denizens of our planet have more than violated the earth we live on and perhaps that is the reason why Mother Nature has manifested herself as the microbe Corona to make us realize our misdemeanors and blunders.

It is high time we learn this valuable lesson from the epic. So, I used the luxury of lockdown time to read my favorite epic once again in order to forage for more messages.

Covid Inspired Classrooms


COVID-inspired classrooms

Indian education was moving along at its usual pace when a microscopic virus hit the pause button. Indians, however, are an enterprising lot. The educational sector decided to cock a snook at the corona virus by simply going the e-way! Within a matter of days, many private schools were ready with a new strategy.

In most schools the in-house knowledge bank on matters of technology, networked with corporate experts in the field and teachers were trained briefly online on how to conduct meetings, classes, setting and accepting assignments and evaluation. Teachers worked from home conducting and attending meetings with their colleagues on lesson plans and practising to teach online with technical support for a couple of days. Then they networked either with a student’s parent or guardian and soon e-classes were launched. A regular timetable was charted out and schools slipped into a routine sans assembly, prayer, uniforms and marking of attendance.

Initially, most parents, teachers and students were cynical about the effectiveness of the new methodology. Sudarshan Kasturi, Head, Department of Mathematics at Greenwood High, Bangalore said, “I was not game for the idea in the beginning but constant experimentation with online teaching has made me explore new ideas.” Ramamani, Sanskrit teacher, Jnanodaya High School, Bangalore averred, “Online teaching can never be compared to the dynamics of classroom interaction, but we can adapt if we must.”

The private education sector realized that life must go on and when the world bounces back to a state of normalcy, one should not be left behind. When this line of thought became the guiding mantra, differences were ironed out and everyone accepted the new norm.

When a few members of the management, heads of schools, teachers, parents and students were consulted on the matter, all of them seemed to be speaking in one voice on the various dimensions of “Covid-inspired classrooms”. It was interesting to note that all of them, even the ones who had batted for online classes said that the online version was a pale comparison to the vivacious and cacophonous atmosphere of a school campus. Meena Shivam, homemaker and mother of three school going children in Coimbatore observed, “When one considers plying through heavy traffic in abominably hot Indian summers swathed in formal clothing, uniform, tie, shoes and socks to a hot, stuffy classroom, the alternative of learning from the comfort of their homes saved a lot of time, energy and money.”

This summer however, teachers had to give up their annual vacation. Similarly, children too who enjoy “me-time” to rejuvenate as their parents plan trips and summer camps had to stay at home with the uncertain lockdown prompting extended academic activity throughout the vacation. While the freshly promoted 10th and 12th grade students had regular classes sans practicals and field trips, students of other grades were also kept occupied for two to four days of the week as against the usual norm of having a complete vacation. Various school authorities explained that this step was being taken because it was better to be safe than sorry.

Mini Sreedharan, principal of Shiksha Sagar High school, Bangalore says, “Parents are very happy to see their children studying even through the vacation and we are happy too because the children will not forget their lessons during the holidays.”

It is a well-known fact that several boards of education are working on cutting down the syllabus, which is a sure sign that schools are likely to be given the go-ahead to reopen a couple of months after the usual dates. The existing space, teacher-student ratio, available infrastructure in terms of restrooms, audio-visual rooms, seminar halls and laboratories cannot construe to the new “social distancing” norms immediately.

All the same, if “social distancing” has to be followed for a long time to come, it may pose a lot of practical problems in any school environment. Leelavathi Narayan, founder and principal of Sri Vidya Mandir, Bangalore sharing her thoughts said, “If most doable aspects of various subjects can be covered in online classes, then a certain number of students can be asked to come to school to complete the rest of the portions in a leisurely way without compromising their health.”

Children, who are generally averse to “studying” during vacations are unanimously thankful for the e-lessons during the lockdown, for it gave them something to do. They are happy about the palpable decrease in classroom writing and have a legitimate reason to meddle with their smart phones.

In the beginning some parents were hesitant about these classes because they did not know how to operate the gadgets or use the apps, but when the schools helped them, they learned the ropes. Some parents had to install alternate power facilities to help their children have uninterrupted lessons. At the end of the day they find the e-classes to be a breather which introduces an element of being engaged fruitfully at least for a few waking hours.

In this scenario, no one seemed to be complaining and everyone seemed to be grateful to be conducting or attending online classes because they were involved in a productive activity. Yet the acceptance comes with a caveat —-  almost everyone I spoke to said they were yearning to get back to the madding crowd at school in the near future.

The author is a professor  of English and Sanskrit, Jain University, Bangalore. She also freelances for the print media, is a radio artist, writes scripts for television shows. She can be reached at prathi2000@rediffmail.com.

The Solitary Reapers


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/the-solitary-reapers-814761.html

A couple of years ago a small house was rented out in our locale to two women. Within a matter of two weeks, eleven women started living on the premises. The ladies belonged to different age groups, religions and sects. They seemed to be from a neighbouring state. They did not look well off. That explained why they had decided to share one home. The neighbourhood was not exactly pleased with the idea of having such a large population of women amidst their midst. Everyone was on the vigil. After all one needed a concrete evidence to evacuate them from their rented property. However it appeared as if the women were way too decent and busy to take cognizance of the resentment that enveloped them.

There was a total absence of the much expected clamour, chaos and criminal mindset among the ladies. A month passed by. Whenever a maid availed leave, a desperate homemaker would rope in one of the ladies to help her out with her chores. Slowly but surely each one of the women was absorbed as a domestic helper.

They blended seamlessly as indispensable hands in almost every household. Their hardworking and non interfering nature made many of us curious to know more about them. Nevertheless they maintained a stiff upper lip contrary to their tribe.

When we celebrated a festival at our home, we invited the women to offer them the traditional Haldi Kumkum. The women seemed to be taken aback. One of the younger women called me aside and said, “Akka, do not offer us the Haldi Kumkum.” She thumbed out the sacred yellow thread from her blouse furtively and whispered, “All of us are either widows or abandoned women. The yellow thread each one of us wears does what our drunkard husbands did not do; — it protects us from the probing eyes of wicked men. We have come here to work and earn for the upkeep of our families back home. We do not expect anything else. ”

She walked back to her friends who were ready to leave. They reminded me of Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper. Almost immediately, similar sentimental words from a famous Hindi song came drifted past. “Na main sapna hoon ya koi raaz hoon ek dard bhari awaaz hoon.” ( I am neither a dream nor a secret but a voice filled with melancholy).

I realised that these were worldly wise and independent women who had fenced themselves off intelligently and effectively. I appreciated the way they camouflaged their despair and forged ahead in life and invited them again with renewed fervour.

 

How do I Love Thee?


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How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways.       

I have always wondered why a poetess like Elizabeth Browning would begin a romantic sonnet with the lines “How do I love Thee? Let me count the ways.” Now I understand the emotion that underlines her seemingly mundane lines when I am trapped in a similar situation.

Recently I was asked to write about my experiences as a student at my school which will be turning fifty this year. I found myself fumbling for words even as I tried to encapsulate what Sri Vidya Mandir (That is the name of my school) means to me. When I first stepped into a sprawling house which was used as a school in the heart of verdant Malleswaram, in Namma Bengaluru, little did I know that it would become an integral part of my person and persona? I felt completely at home (pun intended) because we were just eight students in our batch and our teachers knew us like the palms of their hands.

There was never a dull moment at school, as we were constantly engaged in academics and extracurricular activities. The five years that I studied in this haloed place had a far reaching impact on my life. I don’t remember evaluating options when it came to deciding my primary career, it had to be teaching. My passion for languages, literature, social sciences, and the arts is nothing but the harvest of the seeds sown by my teachers out there. Perhaps that explains why I am still in touch with the teachers who inspired me. I met my friends for life on this campus. The list can go on.

 Despite being the recipient of such rich bounties that populate my life to this day, I do have a pet peeve. Exactly two years after I left school to pursue high school education elsewhere, my alma mater decided to launch its High School wing. I will always be left wondering about how my life could have been further upgraded if I had spent three more years under its wings.

Today, when the school is stepping into its golden jubilee year, I realise that tens and thousands of students must have emerged as fully-fledged, responsible individuals from this mother ship. The mere thought of it is enough to set me off on new innings of pride, gratitude, humility, and inspiration. Long live SVM!

Perceive with Sensitivity and Sensibility


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War can only precipitate two things in any age and place – death and destruction. When two mighty powers are at loggerheads with each other the lives of the innocent are at stake, no matter to which camp they belong to. Besides appearances can be deceptive and so can perceptions about ideologies.

The third act of the play Veni Samharam written by Bhatta Narayana has a very thought provoking prelude which discusses this syndrome peculiar to human beings. The dramatist employs irony to show the cruelty and the futility of war. Rudhirapriya and Vasagandha, the demon couple, have a very domestic conversation, revolving around the war of Kurukshetra where they discuss about storing the blood and flesh of great warriors who died on either side which will save them the trouble from scavenging for food in the coming months. Though the talk appears to be insensitive and gruesome, a little observation reveals that the conversation of the couple is only reflecting their natural state of mind whereas the fighters on the battlefield, trained and heroic men were behaving like barbarians killing one another in the name of war.

The sensitivity of the so called insensitive trolls  is highlighted further when they point out how the bereaved mother Hidimba who lost her only son Ghatotkacha was consoling Subhadra who happened to be sailing on the same boat  having lost her only son Abhimanyu. The ability of the Rakshasas to empathise the sorrow of the grief stricken mothers impartially speaks in volumes about their compassion, a quality rarely attributed to their kind. It is the author’s subtle way of saying that any war finally punishes doting and affectionate mothers who may send their sons to war voluntarily or otherwise. No one can efface the scorched souls of the kith and kin of the dead heroes who face the brutal brunt of war.

When we perceive with sensibility and sensitivity we  will not only realise about the futility of war but also understand that popular perceptions about typecasting and role play may not always be spot on.

 

Universality of Parental Love


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These days a lot of young and not-so-young adults are donning the roles of adoptive single parents. Being such a parent can be an arduous and fulfilling experience at the same time. For those of you who think it is a postmodern trend, think again. Kalidasa sketched the affectionate and responsible mindset of a single unmarried adoptive father in his famous work, Abhijnana Shakuntalam.

The abandoned baby of sage Vishwamitra and the nymph Menaka is adopted and brought up lovingly by sage Kanva. The child grows up amidst pristine beauty and selfless love absorbing those very qualities. As a young girl, she is once harassed by a recalcitrant bumblebee.

King Dushyantha of Hastinapura who is on a hunting spree in the vicinity observes the damsel and springs out of the bushes and saves her from distress. The couple fall in love in the aftermath and enter into a secret wedlock known as Gandharva Vivaha.

When it is time for the king to return to his royal duties, he does not want to take his young bride with him in the absence of her foster father. Soon, Shakuntala discovers that she is with child and languishes in the hermitage gazing at the regal insignia Dushyantha has left behind.

When Sage Kanva returns to the hermitage, he hears an aerial voice apprising him of the scenario awaiting him. Perhaps, this prepares him mentally to deal with the situation with patience and understanding. He immediately makes arrangements for his pregnant daughter to join her royal husband without much ado about the circumstances of the events.

Yet, the practical man is emotionally fraught with angst when he has to let go of his daughter. He wonders if a similar experience could be worse for biological fathers!

This incident brings a closure on the difference between foster and biological parents by subtly pointing out that a genuine parent-child relationship is an intangible web woven by innumerable strands of love, care, sharing and emotional support for each other.

Overcoming Timidity


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Most of us must be familiar with a certain type of people who are timid to the point where they allow the domineering to walk all over them. While we cannot discount the fact that they are the tribe who are responsible for the little peace we enjoy on earth, we must also not forget that we are punishing them with untold trauma for being good natured.

A tale from the repertoire of stories from the Ramakrishna Ashram suggests a panacea for diffident denizens. There once lived a cobra in a little hamlet. He was feared by everyone. One day a saint came to the village. The cobra noticed the contrast in the attitude of the villagers towards himself and the saint. He approached the saint and spelled out his observation. The sage told the cobra to follow austerity. The snake who was determined to garner admiration even gave up hunting and lived on leaves shed by the trees. When he became noticeably meek and amiable, even little children in the village picked up him up by the tail and swirled him around just for fun. The serpent put up with this ordeal, to achieve his goal. Sometime later, the saint visited the settlement again. He heard about the saintly cobra. The good man visited the emaciated serpent and told him, that being nice did not mean accepting rude or violent behaviour. In fact, no one should ever accept an onslaught on their self esteem or accept discourteous behaviour, especially when they have done nothing to merit it. The Samaritan told the cobra to continue to be affable but also draw the line when others tried to take advantage of his goodness. When the reptile wondered as to how he could straddle both the situations, the saint told the cobra to unfurl his hood and hiss to frighten the mischief makers. He need not necessarily harm them, but threatening to do so could keep them at bay and also ensure his sanity and serenity.

Spending Summer Vacations


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-in-the-middle/spending-summer-vacations-732995.

The young working mothers association of our layout got together in the middle of February. I was given the privilege of being party to their brainstorming session, despite being much older.   Even as their children were preparing for their final examinations they were planning ahead for the summer vacations. Wanting to give the best for their kids they planned a short trip to some exotic destination, preferably abroad. Then they wanted to enroll the kids in a couple of summer camps ranging from fine arts, sports, soft skills, cooking et al to keep them usefully occupied. I was involved in this melee to give an unbiased picture of the logistics regarding the timings, route and to allot responsibilities to parents on picking up and dropping off  the children.

Even as each lady was vocalizing her preference, I slipped into memory lane. During my summer holidays my brother and I usually visited our grandparents, various aunts and uncles and had a good time with our cousins. Each day we would be involved in some stages of preparing elaborate ethnic dishes and savour them in the late afternoons. Then we would sift through knickknacks and listening to stories about  family heirlooms. Playing with the dog, cats and kittens, reading our favourite comic books and books from the library took away most of our afternoons. The evenings would be spent with local friends at the park. Late evenings would see us help out with petty shopping, plucking jasmine buds sorting out our stuff and so on. We would be regaled with family stories across generations and then we would spend time looking at framed photographs which graced the walls and old albums identifying the people in the stories. Power cuts which were an integral part of summers in an era which did not possess alternate power options were spent in marathon sessions of reciting multiplication tables, conjugating verbs in different languages, playing word building or Atlas and singing songs by candle light. Sometimes we wrote long letters to friends back home or copied out address books, recipes and other such inventories using our calligraphy skills to the optimum.

As I slipped out of nostalgia amidst the chatter I jotted down the ground rules that were agreed upon. The kids were to be engaged from dawn to dusk hopping from one center to another in the route where parents could pick up or drop them en route to their workplace. The budget allotted was around ten thousand rupees per child. Never mind the interest of the child or the contents of the classes. I had a good mind to tell them that I did not subscribe to their ideas, but then remembered my role was to help them organize their schedules. And summer vacation for them was about keeping their kids safe and engaged while they brought home the moolah. The sands of time had shifted, so had the idea of a vacation !

 

 

Accomodating Our elders


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A random study of the civilisations across the globe reveals that mankind as a single unit has certainly recognised the fact that it is inevitable that man grows older and experiences a deterioration of his faculties and general health over a period of time.

In spite of this physical weakening, he grows stronger in spirit and emerges as a wise person which he derives from the various experiences of life.
Perhaps an African proverb which goes, “A library dies when a old man dies” speaks volumes about how the elderly were looked upon in the past.

As each day rolls by we grow older, little realising that old age will be taking toll of us very soon. Yet most young people have a firm belief that they will never age and hence become insensitive to the older people around them.

The ever-growing number of old-age homes in a traditional country like India is an alarming development that needs to be checked as early as possible.
At this point it will be of essence to remember an old fable where a man served his aged father gruel on a cracked plate day after day as he felt that he had no more benefits to reap from the old man.

One day, when the old man left home with disgust and melancholy because of the treatment meted out to him, the young grandson picked up the cracked plate, cleaned it and wrapped it up neatly in a brown paper. When the surprised father asked him to explain his action, the little boy said that he was keeping the plate safely so that he could serve gruel on the plate when his own father became old and infirm.

This answer struck the father like a lightning and he immediately set off to find his own father filled with remorse and guilt.

Even as the world is progressing, old-age homes mushrooming around the world are taking the role of a reliable support system.

Each of us will do well to remember that we must not let the golden chance of showing our gratitude to the elders who shaped our lives slip by. After all did they not spend the best part of their lives caring for us?

The Art of Milking


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S.RADHA PRATHI

Survival on earth is becoming a challenge these days because we are being constantly riddled by environmental issues. A little introspection will reveal that we have no one else except ourselves to blame for the dire straits that we have landed ourselves into.

It is interesting to note that the Vishnu Purana documents a story on parallel lines. When our planet was ruled over by emperor Prithu thousands of years ago, there was a severe drought. Lack of water and food killed the flora and fauna without discretion.

Then a group of Rishis called upon the sovereign to find the riches hidden within the bowels of the earth to save the dying. Prithu was livid when he learned that the earth had not been sharing the life-saving resources with her people. He immediately wanted to release a lethal arrow to tear the earth open and release the treasures.

Almost immediately, the earth metamorphosed into a cow and fled the scene. The sovereign chased the bovine till both of them were exhausted. Eventually the chaser and the chased struck a deal. Mother Earth, who had assumed the form of a cow conceded to give the treasures of food, water, precious gems and minerals in a measured manner, if she was milked gently and judiciously by the king.

Prithu agreed and donned the role of the regal milkman and the earth yielded in the capacity of a milch cow. It is said that the earth is also known as Prithvi or the daughter of Prithu post this incident.

The metaphor will reveal that milking is an art which involves patience, knack and the knowledge of when to stop without draining the udders completely so that it can replenish itself over a period of time.

When we reflect on this fable, it is easy to see that the earth faced a drought because of the exploitation of her resources. Prithu, the representative of mankind could not retrieve the resources violently.

If we, the denizens of this earth, imbibe the basic rules of milking, like Prithu did and refrain from stripping our planet of her resources, we will leave posterity its rightful legacy.