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.

 

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.

Quality of Mercy is Twice Blessed


http://www.deccanheraldepaper.com/

Many of us carry a mental baggage. Injustice and wrongs meted out to us at different points of life continue to bog us down. We either wallow in self pity or very simply crave to settle scores.

Both options can prove detrimental to our physical and mental health. Religion and psychology say that the only way forward is to forgive and forget. This lofty concept is easier said than done. This is because we are not as large-hearted as we believe ourselves to be. Secondly, we forget the times when we have been pardoned for our sins by generous souls. The sum and substance of the quality of mercy can be identified in one of the key episodes in the Ramayana.

Rama killed Ravana, the king of Lanka and the abductor of his wife in a gory battle. Hanuman hastened with the news to the Ashoka Vana where Sita was held captive.

The distressed princess felt elated. Hanuman told Sita that he could punish her offenders. Sita gave Rama’s messenger a long look. She looked around her at the faces that were no longer menacing. She simply told Hanuman to leave them alone. When Sita saw the quizzical expression on Anjaneya’s visage, she explained that the female ogresses who guarded her and intimidated her were mere instruments in the hands of their leader. They had been carrying out their assignment out of dread of their king. Hence they were not to be faulted or penalised for simply carrying out their duties.

Besides, her redemption from the clutches of her abductor happened to be a red lettered day in her life. She had no earthly possessions to give away to signify her joy. Her royal lineage prompted her to be generous. Her intrinsic nature chose to forgive the malefactors. Hence it was but natural for her to let bygones be bygones and carry on with life.

Shakespeare reiterated the same sentiment when he said, “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes. The throned monarch better than his crown;—”

Sankranthi Shopping


Published in student edition of Deccan Herald dated 14th January 2019

The ushering in of the “Uttarayana Punyakala” popularly known as Sankranthi, is feted variously across the Indian continent. Yet the concept of the celebration is much the same across the nation. The largely agrarian population is glad that the hard winter days are coming to an end and it is time for them to reap the well deserved harvest of their sweat and toil.

Sankranthi times in our country invariably spell a lot of prayer, fervour and joy not necessarily in that order. The thought of breaking away from the normal routine of life and indulging in a faithful and felicitous celebrations have kept the Indian race on their toes. Preparations for festivals begin days ahead of the red lettered day in order to gear up for the occasion.

Long ago, when supermarkets and malls had still not caught up with large sections Indian population, the barter system was the order of the day. People seemed to personify the essence of Khalil Gibran’s thought process when he said,

“To you the earth yields her fruit and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands.

It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.”

Farmers generally harvest sugarcane, rice, wheat and a couple of pulses besides a variety of seasonal fruits and vegetables during this season. In the past they would take stock of their resources and utilize their excesses to get themselves their requisite necessities. Over a period of time bartering gave way to small time trading when people used to sell their goods and buy the things they needed. Usually they indulged in spending their money at wholesale markets which offered them the best bargains.

Then, just like everything else in life the process of shopping metamorphosed from the friendly neighbourhood kirana shops to departmental stores, supermarkets and eventually to massive mall which claim to sell wares for all your needs under one roof.

Though the method of shopping for our needs, comforts and luxuries has come a long way from the days we bartered to the present day credit card culture, the concept of shopping is pretty much the same. There was a time when the ladies of the house would forgo their siestas at least a fortnight before Sankranthi to organise themselves for the big day. They had to shell and roast peanuts, gram and gingelly seeds, slice copra, granulate jaggery and fashion cubes and dolls from sugar syrup and stock them up to be distributed among friends and relatives on the day of the festival.

These days working women in cities find time scarce to indulge in the long drawn process. This certainly does not mean that people do not celebrate the festival in the traditional manner anymore. The milling crowds in the markets and malls during festival season selling the quintessential “ellu bella” in neat packets or little boxes besides variously crafted sugar cubes and dolls is proof enough that tradition is very much alive. If one is willing to shell out a little more money one can actually place orders for customized products which even include neatly chopped sugarcane sticks. Similarly, if one is running short of time or simply does not feel like cooking up an orgy, a horde of restaurants, food courts and smalltime catering units cook and serve the customary Pongal, vada along with the conventional fare.

People shop for the specific needs of the festival besides picking up clothes, furniture, electronic appliances or anything else they fancy during these times as shrewd retailers and dealers cash in on the sentiments of the people by offering discounts, freebies and exchange offers.

This changing trend which has retained the core value of the festivities has been possible because the average Indian likes to be rooted to his culture but does not quite mind the idea of using modern facilities and technology to serve his purpose. Happy Sankranthi!

The Sublime and the Ridiculous


https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/right-middle/sublime-and-ridiculous-671464.html

The other day, I watched an interesting documentary on the life of nomads who live in the desert region. They were answering several questions regarding their history, demography and relevance of their lifestyle to a keen interviewer. When the next phase of the show began, the group was asked what they thought about random subjects. Their treasury of knowledge oscillated between the absurd and the astute. For instance some of them did not know the name of the region where they had camped; but seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of the natural resources of the land like where to find water and supplies for their caravan. They hardly cared that their kids were not going to school. Yet they seemed to have been made of grey cells all over. They were able to tell the time and weather without any contraption; they reeled off a dozen home remedies ranging from a bad cold to scorpion bites. They seemed to know a repertoire of words from a series of languages including English, useful for their survival. The tribe did not bother about lack of potable water or sanitation facilities, but were perfectly capable of optimizing what came their way without obstructing or polluting their environment. In other words they epitomized the concept of wild wanderers to the core!

Then there was a query on lord Ganesha. The interviewer called upon an elderly woman in the group and asked her why she thought the lord was pot bellied. Pat, came the answer; “Because, he has the earth in his stomach.” Even as the eyes of questioner lolled with disbelief, a slow and deliberate explanation as if to a child followed. The lord protected the world by placing it in his stomach; it was but natural that the round world bulged over his middle. I mulled over the outlandish answer. For a while it appeared as if the lady had reduced sublime to the ridiculous.

Then, I was reminded of Thomas Paine who once said, “The sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately, one step above the sublime makes the ridiculous and one step above the ridiculous makes the sublime again.” The words which had seemed like a cryptic code to me until then suddenly came alive.

I was able to appreciate their interpretation of the deity despite appearing different. It was pretty much on the lines of what the devout would say, about the lord protecting the universe. In retrospection I realized that their set of life skills and knowledge albeit different were on par, perhaps even superior to the so called civilized society.

 

Proof of My existence


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/668732/proof-my-existence.html

We, in the subcontinent, have been told that possessing an Aadhaar card will be an antidote for all regional, national and international identification purposes for about half a decade now.

The multiple uses of this card would prove to be a panacea and offset the need to have and keep track of half a dozen similar cards. It is considered to be foolproof and of world-class,  because it uses biometrics and the latest technology.

As usual, we the Indians, have mixed feelings towards it. The believers, the non-believers, and the in-betweens, who debate vehemently on the subject.

The first group queued up almost immediately at the assigned booths and went through the procedure through rain and shine.

They ranged from babies in arms to senior citizens. Loads of documents were verified and the denizens filled up e-forms. They were asked to wait up to three months to receive the magic wand. The believers encouraged the in-betweens to follow suit.

The ones who thought that it would be better to be uniquely identified, gave it a shot. They expected the serpentine queues in front of Aadhaar booths to have depleted with time. But they did not take our billion-plus population into consideration.

Nevertheless, they stood with the hope that their time and effort would eventually reward them.

Months flit past. The coveted card made its way to the doorsteps of the early birds. It pleased some. Others found that one or all of their details were misrepresented.

Meanwhile, a newspaper report mentioned that somebody in the then Andhra Pradesh received an Aadhaar card in the name of Sonia Gandhi. Pranksters and people with selfish motives had generated the coveted card for the dead.

The arrival of more such news reports made the non-believers gloat. The in-betweens who had by this time decided not to believe, got into the “I told you so!” mode.

Years have passed since then. The dilemma of letting the card be or not, continues. It has not been written off entirely. If technology could be done away with, then we could adapt the philosophy of Rene Descartes. Then, we could circumvent a lot of paper work and save the great Himalayan forests. Then Cogito Ergo Sum, (I think, therefore I am) could ideally become the new mantra and the proof of our existence.

Bird’s Eye View of Sanskrit


https://www.jnana.com/blog/Sanskrit/

To many of us, the word “Sanskrit” suggests a wonderful language which belonged to a hoary past. We know that India is the land in which this wonderful language originated. Ancient Indians were well versed in the language. The Vedas, the Puranas, the classical texts – The Ramayana and the Mahabharata were written in this language and they have been recognised and revered by people across the globe even to this day. The Indian way of living, its ethos and flavour is directly related to the language and what it has to offer by way of classics and literature. Just about every subject under the sun has been covered in one way or another in some of these texts. Linguists and scientists marvel at the precise nature of this language. The inherent binary code of the letters in the language has been discovered to be compatible for codification and for use by computers. All the contemporary Indian languages have been derived from this source, with the exception of Tamil.

This ancient language has a hoary past running into millenniums hence it is very difficult to arrive at some consensus about the origin of the language. Traditionally, Indians, believe that the language was initially used by our pantheon of 33 crore gods to communicate amongst themselves. Hence Sanskrit is also called Daiva Bhasha or the lingo of the gods. Later on, the language was gifted to mankind by goddess Saraswathi and hence Sanskrit is also known as Geervana Bharathi.

The fairy tale like origin of the language apparently had few takers amongst the hardcore linguists across the globe who think that Sanskrit evolved from Prakruth derived from the sounds of nature. They believe that long, long ago when man evolved into an intelligent being, he found the necessity to communicate his thoughts, feelings and ideas. He probably played “dumb charades” and sometimes took to hieroglyphics to put across his thoughts and aped sounds from nature in order to communicate. Over a period of time the language was organised and honed till it reached the point of perfection. The phonology, syntax, vocabulary and grammar of the language has the world awestruck with its finesse and completeness.

When an ancient language has so many feathers in its cap (or is it crown?) one would think that the language is on velvet and nothing can ever go wrong in its kingdom. Yet sadly enough, we have come a long away from such a pristine state of affairs. A brief study of the history of the country will reveal that, we as a nation have been introduced to varied cultures and civilisation over the course of history. The invaders left their stamp behind that influenced our way of living and thinking to a large extent. Lots of factors changed. Yet the change cannot be considered complete as we have retained the basic Indian values despite innumerable onslaughts. Perhaps it is at this juncture, we should recognise the power of the Sanskrit language which helped us to carry forward the basis of Indian-ness for it has been the cementing factor which has sustained the spirit in the oral and written format.

All of you are perhaps aware that Sanskrit is one of the most ancient languages in the world which is complete in its own way. Have you ever wondered about the origin of this language? As students, whenever you are taught something new or asked to learn a novel concept, you may have found yourself wondering whoever started it all. Some of your questions may have interesting answers and some may not.

If you have ever wondered about Sanskrit, well, there is a very interesting tale about the beginning of the language in our ancient texts. It is said that lord Shiva lapsed into one of his ecstatic danced to the beat of the Dumroo, a small percussion instrument (see picture alongside) and several variations of sounds flowed out of the instrument. It is said these letters were gathered in this order and used as the basic letters of the language and were represented in the ‘Devanagari’ script.

The sound and the symbols of the language were effectively used by the people to compile a comprehensible vocabulary and record their observations and inferences in the form of Vedas which are called Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharvana Vedas. A close reading of the Vedas will reveal that they not only give guidelines to lead a life that emphasises on living in harmony with nature and fellow human beings but also have a wealth of information on just about every topic under the sun.

A few copies of the Vedic literature was etched on processed palm leaves by scholarly students for reference, but most of them committed the entire text to memory and passed on the texts orally to their juniors. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, we do not have too many copies of the entire text available as on date.

Many a time some words were lost in mis-pronunciation and lapse of memory. In such cases, people resorted to the basic rules of grammar which helped them to supplement the blank with an appropriate word. This procedure is almost akin to solving a crossword puzzle where you have a clue of both the meaning of the word and the number of letters in the answer word.

Our ancestors had evolved a wonderful way of understanding and learning a language. Panini an ancient grammarian who is believed to have lived in eighth century BC formulated 3964 “Aphorisms” also known as “Sutras” each running into a word or a phrase. If a student of Sanskrit grammar learned these sutras by heart, his language was sure of becoming impeccable. These sutras dealt with different aspects of language like grammar, analogy, vocabulary, communicative language among other things which facilitated the learning of the language almost faultlessly.

The fact that there have been little or no revisions in the basic rules of the language ever since reflect on the level of perfection that had been attained by the grammarian. The famous Vedas, Puranas, epics, classics and even contemporary literature have been written in the language which subscribes to these rules. Perhaps, it is features like consistency and the completeness of the language that keep it going on till this day despite so many setbacks.

Fear and Greed


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/651422/fear-greed.html

Man is perhaps the greediest creature on planet earth. He has not only exploited nature but also his fellow human beings to fortify his well being. If he continues to behave selfishly, it will not take too long for him to enlist himself in the list of endangered species and eventually face extinction.

It is amazing to note that psychologists feel that it is intrinsic fear that prompts avarice in people. A popular folk tale reiterates this line of thought effectively.

Once a Guru was giving a discourse on the six cardinal sins that destroy a man’s personality and spirit. On that particular day he dwelt on the subject of greed. The subject was discussed at length and he summed up his session by declaring that fear is the root cause of greed. Some of his students were perplexed by the pronouncement. They expressed their doubt to the Guru. The teacher said that he would discuss the subject during the next class.

That night the tutor and the taught sat down to partake supper. The cook hurried towards the Guru and told him that he had cooked for the day but they had run out of provisions. He also mentioned that it might easily take them a couple of days to acquire rations again. The Guru waved the cook away and asked the students to eat their meal.

During the course of the supper he noticed that quite a number of students were gorging on the food. Even frugal eaters were asking for a second helping. He waited for everyone to eat to their fill and then assemble in the courtyard of the hermitage. When all the students filed in, he told them that fear indeed is the root cause of greediness. The pupils who had heard the cook speaking about the shortage of ration feared a possible starvation in the coming days and fed themselves to their teeth.

The students realised that the conversation had been arranged to clarify a point. They felt a little ashamed and also enlightened on the matter. They promised not to give in to fear and the greed that followed thereafter. When we know that insecurity can lead us to become acquisitive by nature, we must address the matter.

 

From Art to Heart


http://www.deccanherald.com/content/646739/from-art-heart.html

Denizens of Namma Bengaluru are treated to dollops of street art every now and then. More recently, the painting of a swimming pool in and around a large pothole captured a lot of attention. The painting seemed to come alive when somebody captured a realistic snapshot of a random pedestrian trying to step in gingerly into the painted waters holding the bars of the ladder and uploaded it onto social media.

The picture sent me on a nostalgic trip down the busy streets of our city a couple of decades ago. Just about every Saturday, a couple of kids would appear at around 4 pm with brooms and fine brushes. They would clean up a patch of the ground measuring the size of a small carpet. An hour later, their master would come and quickly draw the border lines without using any instrument. Charcoal powder or white rangoli powder would be evenly spread on the floor. Then the master would draw another border around it.

Within a matter of an hour, he would be going round and round drawing the outline. Gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon would emerge magically as he deftly coloured and gilded their ornaments. Once done, he would rest on the platform with his young companions, waiting for the footfalls to linger there. The public would offer prayers and place a coin carefully along the demarked borders before proceeding.

For kids like us, it happened to be the staple weekend all-round exposure to the arts, culture and resourcefulness. No one, except an occasional gust of wind or a spell of rains, would disturb the work of art till it earned bread for its creators until the next weekend.

These artists, though torn apart by time and space have managed to strike a chord and have warmed the hearts of many who have been exposed to their works. They have managed to make us not only appreciate their work but also reflect on it, even if only momentarily. These artists who unleash their creativity with confidence and élan silently remind us how a piece of fine art can warm the cockles of our heart and ruminate on matters beyond the mundane. They serve soups to our souls and hence it becomes our moral responsibility to sustain them and their art. For art is long and life is short!

Perhaps, this is what Khalil Gibran’s meant when he said:

“And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players – buy of their gifts also.

And that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.

And before you leave the marketplace, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.

For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.”