Life (Re)Cycled


https://storymirror.com/read/story/english/j710n3bq/life-re-cycled/detail

Dhaarini rushed in, her school uniform all awry, her folded plait slipping out of the blue ribbon which contained it and even as she tried to dump her extra-large school bag on her study table and take off her shoes almost simultaneously, she announced loudly, “Amma!! Ajji!! I am the leader of the new environmental project for my class. Each class has to bring along all the plastic things that one can do away with at home to school tomorrow, the class which contributes the most gets a prize, and I must collect the plastics to contribute my share for recycling.”

Even as the child was chattering away, and was slipping out of her uniform, her grandmother Dakshayini, draped in a soft non-descript olive green cotton sari hobbled into the hall told the young lass that her mother was away from home for the evening hence Dhaarini was to change into comfortable home clothes, freshen up, drink up her milk and finish her homework before doing anything else.

Ten year old, Dhaarini’s enthusiasm did dip a little but in an hour’s time the young one complied with all the instructions of her grandmother and fished out a huge, black, plastic carry bag and started scouting the house for plastics which she considered dispensable. Being the only child she had scores of toys, pencil boxes, water bottles, sharpeners and clips among other paraphernalia which she merrily tossed into the bag without looking at them twice. Then she made her way to the kitchen closely followed by her granny and even as she rested her eyes on the neat stack of washed, use and throw containers which made their way regularly into their home during the days when they decided to order food or sweets from a nearby hotel, her grandmother eased them out of their position and placed it in the bag.  Then the twosome went to the bathroom and gathered empty plastic containers, frayed mugs which went into the huge plastic knapsack. Then Dhaarini climbed up the light aluminium, portable ladder placed in the bathroom and laid her little hands on an old faded and ugly red pot with a broken neck placed in the open attic in her grandmother’s room and instantaneously she heard the elderly lady forbidding her from picking it up. The child was taken aback a little, the pot was out of colour and chipped and had been around the house for as long as she could remember so she turned around to check what made the seventy year old, object to her choice of scrap plastic.

She heard Dakshayini murmur that the pot was bought by her late grandfather and hence should not be touched. The young girl did not find this statement to be explanation enough, so she reached out for the object again and this time around the objection was louder and clearer and the pot was taken away physically by her grandmother and was firmly placed on the tiled floor. She categorically told Dhaarini to keep away from the pot and walked away in a huff. The perplexed child got down from the ladder and went on pointing out that the pot was old and therefore fit to be recycled, but did not receive any response from the latter. Dakshayini plunked down into her cosy arm chair and was lost in thought with her eyes open, not looking anywhere in particular. Dhaarini took one look at her grandmother and instantly got the message that she was to leave granny alone for a while, she was familiar with her grandmother’s mood swings which were occurrences that happened once in a blue moon, but she was also sure that her grand old lady would bounce back to normalcy if left alone for a while. Even as the child tiptoed away, the older woman lapsed into nostalgia.

True, the pot had lost its use but it had traveled with her for the last forty years and held a special place in her heart. No one knew about it for the simple reason she never spoke about it.

Dakshayini was not highly educated but she had been to school for a decade and was literate in both her mother-tongue Kannada and the foreign language English. She kept tab of current events through magazines and newspapers and managed to read a couple of novels whenever she was able to lay her hands on them.  She gained a lot of worldly knowledge through her travels when she accompanied her husband who was posted in various places in South India. She was aware that plastics were not favoured by environmentalists as they were considered to be lethal to the earth nowadays. But then she had also witnessed another era when plastics captured the imagination of people in an unimaginable way. She was soon lost in an era, more than half a century ago, when she took over the responsibilities of a new bride in a large household in Rampura.

That was an age when rural and urban India used brass, iron and earthen vessels to cook their meals. A stainless steel utensil was considered to be a sissy in a kitchen filled with sturdy vessels because it lacked the strength and the endurance of being placed on an earthen hearth with a large flame. Such being the case other materials were not even considered as possibilities. When she longed for some fancy glassware in her marital home, her wish was discounted with a reprimand from her mother-in-law who was aghast that Dakshayini wanted to use glass wares which were used only by barbers of those days usually the ones handed down by the British “Mems.”

Being the third daughter in law of an orthodox Brahminical family, her frail constitution and relatively delicate upbringing did not permit her to handle the heavy kitchenware with ease. She was assigned the job of fetching water for the kitchen from the well which kept her on her toes for most of the day. She never once thought of shirking her duties but wished to goodness that the heavy brass pot used to draw water from the well could be replaced by something lighter. Her desire took shape into an obsession and then took the dimensions of a secret ambition as she longed to own a weightless set of kitchen ware day in and day out. She found it increasingly difficult to lift or set down the heavy vessels as she got weaker after two childbirths followed by a miscarriage. Every one in the family and extended family warmed up to her and offered her kindly tips on how to put on weight and get stronger. Sometimes they helped her out whenever possible but nobody really thought much of substituting lighter material, at least for drawing water from the well.

She brought up this subject whenever she found herself alone with her husband Guru, which was usually during bedtime when she became completely drained out after a day of heavy work. Guru understood her problem but was shy of being dubbed as a hen-pecked husband if he enunciated Dakshayini’s quandary in front of the family. He dismissed the idea or even the possibility of a lighter option, instead he opted for a practical and diplomatic way out of the problem by drawing at least ten pots of water for the kitchen besides filling up the cement tank for his beloved wife before the crack of dawn, before anyone else got up in the household. Though his help lightened her workload to some extent, she had to draw tenfold amount of water over the day to cater to the domestic needs of the large family. The brass pot used to draw the water weighed almost two kilos left her wanting for energy. Even as others failed to understand her crisis the drudgery worked on her mind and wore out her body day in and day out, as she went through her chores everyday.

Dakshayini’s craving for light pots and pans grew day after day though she was not quite sure how to go about acquiring them. Nevertheless she spent a great deal of time in designing her perfect vessels in her dreams and enjoyed herself in a make believe world of colourful, weightless objects which could be handled almost effortlessly. This abstract mental exercise gave her an inexplicit sense of joy and creativity and she enjoyed every moment of it whenever she was by herself.

A couple of years rolled along; but nothing much changed in Dakshayini’s life. Even as she lived in a make believe world of light materials, she was told by a visiting cousin of hers that a new material was introduced into the Indian market. It was called plastic and just about everything from toys to mugs, to bowls and pots were made from the substance. She apprised Guru of the information and he made a special trip to the city to investigate the news and came home with a red coloured plastic pot which he placed in the middle of the hall on arrival. The whole family gathered around to inspect the novel article. Dakshayini immediately understood that pot was meant for her though Guru did not actually give it to her in the presence of others in the hall. She eyed the pot from a distance without touching it and fell in love with the gift; it appeared light, bright and pretty strong too and would lighten her work to a great extent. Her dream had come true. She was elated, but she did not express her feelings because she did not want to be teased. She knew that nobody in the house could object to her using it, as Guru, the son of the house had bought it. As Dakshayini sat in the ladies quarters that afternoon after lunch she listened to every word that Guru gushed about the new fancy material. He described how the city was flooded with the material that was available in every possible shape, size and structure while she silently reveled in the fact that her unspoken vision had actually translated into reality. In fact it surprised her that she could listen to him with the same awe and without interrupting him when he repeated the same information when they were together in their room later on that day. She found it amazing that her dreams had come true and reminded Guru of her longtime fantasy ecstatically, but he did not seem to pay much attention to her claims. She swallowed her disappointment and chose not press the matter further.  After all, life became relatively easier for her as plastic replaced the heavy metals wherever possible.

Two years later, the large joint family disintegrated when her parents in law passed away and the three sons of the family decided to explore job possibilities in the cities which were on the fast track of industrialisation.

Guru moved on to Bombay with his wife and two sons. Dakshayini enjoyed being the mistress of her individual home and she learned to speak the local language and took a special interest in her sons’ education but most of all she took restrained pleasure as she welcomed stainless steel, glass and porcelain into her kitchen. Several decades later when her first born returned from the USA she procured her first microwave oven accompanied by a set of light plastic dishes that could be used to heat and cook food too. She was overwhelmed with a silent joy when she saw for herself that plastics had been designed to even withstand heating.

Life had changed for her in more than one way. She lost her husband, her first born decided to settle down abroad and she chose to stay back in India with her second son. She enjoyed the company of her little Dhaarini and participated enthusiastically in all her activities. The older woman learned to enjoy, appreciate and understand her granddaughter’s childhood which was so very different from her own childhood and those of her sons. She had mastered the art of coping with new situations in her life which was backed up by her enterprising spirit which helped her experiment, understand and give space to people, new things and novel experiences that crossed her life – with grace and dignity.

Her passion for plastics waned over the years as she became aware that the boon in her life was turning out to be a bane to the lives on earth. Plastics manifested themselves in demoniac forms and had gotten busy choking life on earth. Dakshayini was not insensitive to the ecological issues around her and was more than willing to avoid plastics and recycle them whenever possible as a rule. However parting with the old pot was altogether a different ball game. She had let go of most of her acquisitions over the years but could not let go of the pot, her first plastic pot designed in the laboratory of her dreams. It was a symbol of her ambition, success, youth, romance, emotional bonding with her late husband and most of all her vision. No, it could not be recycled!!! She could not possibly allow it to be recycled at least as long as she lived!!!

She felt relieved when she relived her past with the pot. She felt convinced that she was right in holding on to the historical object. When clarity refilled her mind she looked at the open door and caught Dhaarini peeking in to the room to check her grandmother’s mood. Dakshayini beckoned to the child lovingly and the little one who was waiting in anticipation rushed into her arms. After the youngster settled down comfortably between her knees, Dakshayini told her, “Darling, some things cannot be recycled; they have to be saved like relics or premier inventions just as they are conserved in museums. Every home will have some such piece or two which have to be treasured for various reasons. The old red pot belongs to that category, it has a story. I will tell you the story when you are old enough to understand on that day you take a decision whether you want to trash the pot or not. For the time being, let us rummage around the house once again to check whether we have left out other dispensable plastics.”

Even as Dhaarini nodded her pretty head in agreement, the clock chimed to announce that it was seven   and Dakshayini smilingly said, “Look even the bell is agreeing with us”

 

Our Naada Habba


Appeared in the student edition of Deccan Herald  23rd September 2019

 

The Pooja vacation is round the corner. A welcome respite for students indeed,         especially as it crops up during the middle of a hectic academic year. Maybe you should keep this article aside and read it at leisure during the vacation.

The Mysore Dusshera our Naada Habba is a world famous event which attracts tourists from every nook and corner of the globe. The reverence towards the goddess Chamundeshwari coupled with pomp and glory exhibited during on these days reflects on the ambience of an age that has flit past. Though one can view the entire ceremony on the television shows which relays the occasion in great detail one must make it a point to enjoy the experience first hand at least once in your lifetime. It can be a joy to re-live the splendour and the grandeur of a prosperous era which is represented by caparisoned elephants, royal relics besides the food and music fit for a connoisseur.

The Dusshera festival is also known as the “Gombe habba” or dolls festival in south India.  Temples and homes have wide stairs built, numbering up to eleven in number and display figurines of gods and goddesses in addition to several dolls representative of historical or contemporary life. This also an occasion to unveil the creativity and imagination by setting up parks, railway stations, cricket grounds to add colour to the occasion.

Dusshera is symbolically celebrated to mark the struggle and the ultimate victory of goddess Chamundi to vanquish the demon Mahishasura. It is believed that this demon assumed the form of a wild buffalo and troubled the sages and disrupted their Yagas. He was very powerful and was blessed with immortality by Bramha who said that the demon would never face death until a woman exterminated him. Mahishasura was extremely pleased with the boon and took his life and power for granted and acted ruthlessly. He knew no woman would dare to even look at him, let alone kill him. It was at this juncture goddess Shakthi assumed the form of Chamundeshwari at the behest of the pantheon of Gods and waged a battle against Mahishasura for nine days.

Puranas reveal that the strength of the goddess was supplemented by Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Durga in phases of three days each, to empower her to destroy Mahisha eventually.

A closer look at this story appears to disclose a coded message for us. The assets of the goddesses are representative of different strengths like wealth ( well- being) , education and power. The goddess also employed Yantra (Mechanisations), Mantra ( synthesized information in the form of formulae) and Tantra (Logic) to kill Mahisha. Hence it becomes apparent that one needs a strength which is a combination of physical power and mental power to achieve one’s end for success does not come very easily without a struggle.

To this day we worship machines, even laptops and palmtops on the ninth day of the festival also known as Ayudha pooja day as a mark of deference towards the instruments that play a part in our success. The last day of the festival is called – a day of victory when the victory of the goddess is celebrated.

It is also celebrated as teachers’ day by traditionalists. It is considered as an auspicious day when new learning or projects can be launched without fear of failure.

The north Indians take pride and happiness in celebrating the event as Durga Pooja or Navrathri. The traditional Garba dance in worship of the goddess has caught the imagination of youngsters in a big way nowadays who spend the Pooja holidays in fun and frolic.

The Ramayana mentions that Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Laksmana after his exile of fourteen years during this period. Ram Leela is celebrated with great fervour in Uttar Pradesh and surrounding states when an effigy of the ten headed Ravana is set on fire.

The Mahabharatha says that Arjuna the Pandava prince retrieved his bow Gandeevi from the Banni tree on Vijayadashami after living incognito for a year to fight Duryodhana and his forces as he took the side of prince UttaraKumara.

A closer observation of their activities will reveal that each geographical area has a different custom which has been followed over the ages though the core value and understanding the festival is uniform throughout the country.

Did you know that this Pooja season has a lot of relevance to mans relationship with the environment around him?

For instance, people give a lot of importance to different cereals and food grains during the first nine days of this festive season.

This tradition has a lot of practical connotations when we delve deeper into it. We all know this festival falls at the fag end of the rainy season. There is usually a dearth of fruits and vegetables during this time. The greens also do not thrive during this season. When man is cut off from a major source of nutrition he is likely to fall sick hence he resorted to utilize the food grains stored by him.  The cereals which are a rich source of protein supplement as nutritious food during the season which is punctuated with fasting and feasting.

Down south, families display dolls and images of gods and goddesses recreating myths, historical and contemporary events during the ten days. If you have noticed they also build a small park where they allow food grains to germinate and grow into young plants.  The site of greenery indoors not only lends beauty to the atmosphere but also acts as an indicator of the condition of the soil. In the past, in a predominantly agricultural society the festival proved to be a platform for experimenting on a possible bumper crop using this aesthetic mode. Farmers collected soil from their fields and sowed different food grains and watered them regularly till they developed into healthy little plants. At the end of ten days they got a fairly good idea of the crop which would do well that season in their soil. This little agricultural experiment formed the basis on which farmers could exchange seeds and agrarian know-how.

This custom encouraged the “give and take policy” among people and helped them to live in harmony amongst themselves and the nature around them.

A study of ancient Vedic texts reveals that each food grain was identified for its specific strengths and its ability to nourish and medicate the various parts of the body when consumed or distributed on a particular day of the week. It has been discovered that intake of rice on Mondays, Toor dal on Tuesdays, green-gram on Wednesdays, channa on Thursdays, beans on Fridays, urad dal on Saturdays and wheat on Sundays can prove to be potent. Recent studies by dieticians and healthcare researchers have confirmed the veracity of the tradition.

Just like any other festivity in India, there are several reasons assigned    for the celebration of these ten days which commence on the Mahalaya Amavasya day during the Sharath or the autumn season. Nevertheless they convey the same messages – the triumph of good over evil and how it is important for us to live in harmony with each other.

The festivities begin on a somber note at riversides, beaches and the several water bodies of India which are generally flooded with people who offer their obeisance to their dead ancestors and pray for the peace and general well being of the departed souls. The following nine days are celebrated with variations that suit the geographical and social backdrops of the various regions. It is amazing to know that each one of our festivals have several layers of meanings and relevance to people from all walks of life. They have been tested and formulated by our ancestors in a purposeful manner to bring added meaning and joy into our lives!!! Happy Dussera !!!

 

 

 

 

 

Power of The Puranas


http://www.deccanheraldepaper.com/

Our Puranas are nothing but a compilation of stories which are metaphorical in nature. Listening to them or reading them for merely entertainment value can at best keep us amused. Ruminating over them and interpreting them in terms of situations can help us deal with quandaries of our lives in an informed manner. The necessity to look upon these fables beyond the frills and fancies has been put across very lucidly in the Bhagavata Purana.

Dhundhukari was the wayward foster son of a pious Brahmin Atmadeva. Perhaps he was genetically programmed to become a denigrated delinquent wastrel because of the nature of his birth. His mother Dhundhuli was not interested in bearing children. When she was asked to eat a divine fruit  to help her become a mother she fed it to a cow, pretended to be pregnant and went on to make a deal with her pregnant sister Mriduli. When her sister delivered a baby boy she led her husband to believe that her sister’s baby was theirs. The cow gave birth to a human child and was adopted by Atmadeva. The boys were pampered and sent to the best of teachers. While Gokarna thrived on education, Dhundhukari did not seem to learn much. He was more interested in frivolous activities. He was an antithesis of Gokarna. He lacked ethics and values. He distressed his parents with his debauchery. Atmadeva retired into Vanaprastha. Dhundhuli, who was ensnared in the web of deceit committed suicide. Gokarna also left his foster home in search of greater knowledge. This development only made Dhundhukari more decadent. He would stoop to any level to keep his addiction for wine and women alive. Once, the women, whose company he kept, ganged up  and killed him. His unrequited soul wandered about terrorizing those who crossed his path. Once when Gokarna returned home he learned of the new developments. He advised the ghost of Dhundhukari to take up austerity and listen to the narration of Bhagavata Purana.

Dhundhukari did as instructed. At the end of the session he was personally liberated by the lord. When Gokarna was puzzled by the unexpected development, the lord clarified the matter. True, Dhundhukari had been depraved, but he had also made a genuine attempt to correct himself. He listened to the Purana with rapt attention and reflected on it with devotion which redeemed him from his profligate existence.

 

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 !

 

 

Ethics of Earning


Published in Deccan Herald dated 9th April 2019

Money is important in life. Our ancient philosophy, which subscribes to attaining the meaning of our lives through Purushartha consists of Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. Hence it has been established since times immemorial that one cannot discount the economic factor in life. However, the moment we allow the financial quotient to take over our lives it amounts to unconditional servility to the monster called materialism. Greed will consume us till we lose touch with ourselves and cannibalize on our identity.

An episode from the Ramayana teaches us subtly to handle this tricky issue in its narrative of sage Agastya’s tryst with wealth.

Once, a highly accomplished princess Lopamudra was struck by sage Agastya’s knowledge, wisdom and keen presence of mind. The sage was also impressed by the lovely lady and entered into a matrimonial alliance with the royal lass. Though the sage had access to all the riches he could ask for by way of dowry, he chose to live a life of austerity with his bride. Several years passed smoothly. Then the couple decided to start a family. They realised that they needed at least the minimum materialistic facilities to give a comfortable life to their wards. Since the couple had led a Spartan life, thus far, Agastya, decided to seek the necessary wealth from one of his contemporary rulers as per the customs of those days. However he followed a certain principle while doing so. He decided that he would take charity only from the excesses of the treasury’s exchequer. Accordingly, he approached the kings one by one. He called for the ledger and examined the income and expenditure of the kingdom at large. He found out that just about every king’s balance sheets tallied. He did not have the heart to accept the generous offers of the just kings because it meant taxing the people of the state. Then he moved away and found his own way to acquire some means to run his family.

The amount of concern, caution and discretion used by Agastya while endeavoring to fulfill his needs speaks in volumes about the code of ethics to be followed while procuring income. If we allow our conscience to screen the money that enters our purses we could squarely obliterate a whole lot of associated crimes by simply following the ethics of earning.

Musings on a Maidless Morning


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/musings-maidless-morning-721538.html

Every time our maid takes off without compunction or notice for valid and invalid reasons, I promise myself to buy myself an Alladin’s lamp. The genie would solve all my problems. However that has remained in the domains of wishful thinking till date. I have often wondered if the brainy Jeeves could materialize and shimmer in to do my chores with the same élan with which he helps his young master to sail out of troubles. Yet the mere memory of his subtly sly ways to achieve his agenda at any cost makes me think twice about my choice.

I remember what Letitia  Baldridge once said, “ When in doubt look what everyone else is doing.” Since I know that practically everyone in my radar is bearing crosses of different densities on maid miseries, I practically have nowhere to look.  So, I decided to travel down the aisles of history and literature and tried to figure out what has gone wrong collectively with our generation of employers of domestic help? Why is it that we are not able to awaken a spirit of loyalty amongst our helpers like our ancestors did?

We certainly do not expect the likes of the nursemaid like Panna Dhai who quietly replaced her own bundle of joy in the place of the baby prince in waiting of Mewar only to be killed mercilessly. Nor do we expect a reliable slave like Jamal ud din Yaqut who stood by Razia Sultana through thick and thin.  I am sure that none of us expect the cruel alacrity displayed by Malik Kafur in the movie Padmavat when he killed two royals in response to a question that was mouthed in half jest by his brand new master.

Following feudal system or enslaving individuals or practising bonded labour is completely unthinkable, for the law of the land forbids it. Movies, soap operas and novels which showcase “old faithfuls” do not seem to have inspired the blue collared lot, nor has all the entertainment been  able to educate employers on the secret of retaining employees successfully. Common sense quotients like regular increments, generous gifts, timely loans and advance payments do not seem to change their ideas of accountability.

House helps have become a tribe who can be loved or hated but can never be ignored. It will certainly do us a world of good when we accept that they are also people like us and they do need to take off. Never mind if they disappear way too often. So the long and short of it is to just figure out a way to function well in their absence. Then, watch out for Zen like calmness that will ensconce your person once you get into the Swalpa Adjust Madkoli mode!