Thursday, June 26, 2014
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
ಕಳೆವ ಮುನ್ನವೆ ಹೊತ್ತು, ಓಡೋಡಿ ಹೋಗದಿರಿ
ಎಳೆಬಿಸಿಲ ತಂಪಿನಲಿ ನಗುವ ಹೂವುಗಳೇ !
ಅಳುವುಕ್ಕುವುದು ನೀವು ಸೊರಗುವುದ ನೋಡುತ್ತೆ
ನಳನಳಿಸಿ ಗಿಡಗಳಲಿ ನೈದಿಲೆಗಳೇ !
ತಡೆಯಿರೈ! ನಿಲ್ಲಿರೈ! ಸಂಜೆಯಾಗುವ ತನಕ
ಪಡುವಣದಿ ರವಿತೇಜ ಮರೆಯಾಗುವನಕ
ಕೂಡಿ ನಿಮ್ಮನು ನಾವು ಬರುವೆವೈ, ನಮ್ಮೊಡನೆ
ಮಾಡಿ ನೀವ್ ಸಂಧ್ಯೆಯಲಿ ಅರ್ಚನೆಯನು
ನಿಮ್ಮಂತೆ ಕ್ಷಣಿಕವೈ ನಮ್ಮ ಬಾಳೂ ಕೂಡ
ನಮ್ಮಯ ವಸಂತವೂ ಚಿರವಲ್ಲವಲ್ಲ!
ನಮ್ಮ ಜವದೇಳಿಗೆಗೆ ಜವರಾಯ ಕಾದಿರುವ
ಎಮ್ಮ ತೆರವೂ ಕೂಡ ನಿಮ್ಮಂತೆಯೇ
ಮುಗಿಸುವೆವು ನೀವು ಜೀವನ ಮುಗಿಸುವಂತೆ, ಬೇ
ಸಗೆಯ ಮಳೆ ಧರಣಿಯಿಂದಾವಿಯಾದಂತೆ
ನಗುವೆಲೆಯ ಮೇಲಿನಿಬ್ಬನಿಯ ಮುತ್ತುಗಳೆಲ್ಲ
ಮುಗಿಲ ಮಡಿಲನು ಸೇರಿ ಕಾಣೆಯಾದಂತೆ ||
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
At the stroke of midnight today, we turn sixty-five. As our Swamiji once told me - a birthday is not just a reminder of the day you were born, but it is a vardhanti - to celebrate growth, to introspect, to think about what we have achieved so far and try to plan for what lies ahead.
When I was younger, our patriotism was intense. Songs like "bhAratIyaru nAvu endendu onde" and "bhAratAmbeye janisi ninnoLu dhanyanAdenu" moved us to tears accompanied with happiness and excitement and contentment. (The former song still moves me to tears sans all the good feelings). Our patriotism also found expression in the marchpasts, in saluting our tricolor with pride. In fact, it is always a cherished dream of children that they will grow up and achieve things that will make their country proud of them. We were no exception. We read stories of war and Independence with greed and pride. We were proud that we belonged to a country of brave soldiers, valiant and benovelent kings and queens and freedom fighters who cared more for the country than for their families.
It was not long before we started questioning our beliefs. Of late, all I have are questions. True, we are a great country. But is the greatness showing itself? If so, where and how? Various news reports and surveys show us that we rank down there along with Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia in the way we treat fifty percent of our population, that we are only slightly better than Pakistan when it comes to corruption, that we rank lower than tiny countries like Belarus when it comes to winning medals in Olympics, that we are slowly but steadily losing vast tracts of our land to our neighbors.
Coming to the last thing first, the news about Assam was conspicuous by its absence in the newspapers. Assam violence certainly deserved many more pages than it got. Initially I thought that it was just because of the way we thought about the Northeast - news from the Northeast does not jump out of the newspapers like the Bacchan family. But the more I read, the better I realized that Assam is being deliberately kept far from the prying media. Or, may be the media does not venture too close to the weaknesses of the Congress party. Things would have been vastly different if we had exchanged Gogoi with Modi. There are no Sardesais interviewing Gogoi. There are no online petitions this time around (I remember signing one for Irom Sharmila a few years ago).
Our problem has always been that of shortsighted leadership. Chacha cared more for his image on the international political stage than his policies at home, and left us with a legacy far too troublesome to ignore - Kashmir and Tibet (by induction, Arunachal Pradesh). Indira Gandhi was better, but did nothing to check Bangladeshi immigration. And look what it is doing in Assam.
Another recent incident in Assam shook my belief about my country. Unlike the Bangladeshi immigration and associated violence, this news was literally popping out of newspapers. The torture undergone by a young girl oustide a pub at an early enough time were disconcerting. The Mangalore and Jharkhand news came not too later, and both found me asking myself if I would like my daughter to grow up in such an environment. There is a beautiful shloka in the raghuvamsha about Raghu's rule, that says that while Raghu was king, even the wind did not dare to disturb the clothing of an abhisArikA who went in search of her lover at night. That was the kind of freedom and security that an able leader like Raghu gave his subjects. In contrast, we are scared to venture out of the safety of our homes after dark, even for work or buying medicines. IMO, the culprit here is not just patriarchy as some feminists claim, but a sick mentality and confidence that they can get away with anything by paying a good enough bribe. And also that ordinary people would not give a damn, whatever happened.
In our History classes, we often studied about various dynasties. The achievements of these dynasties would be listed in separate categories like Conquests, Literature, Art and Architecture and so on. When I tried to do the same thing now, I could not come up with as many items as I would have liked. The progress we have made is on par with other developing nations of the world, not any better. The technological advancement we seem to have made is less because of indigenous technology and more because of technological happening halfway across the globe. Indeed, our poverty is such that we do not have one good institute other than IISc that encourage the Sciences, but cry ourselves hoarse celebrating the accomplishments of the likes of Sunita Williams and Kalpana Chawla. They are Americans, for crying out loud! And also, there are no signs of any improvement coming the people's way with respect to education either, with Sir Kapil as the incharge of the country's education.
I have never felt this depressed on any Independence day. As a person remarked, we seem to have passed from the hands of the British to the hands of thugs and rowdies and criminals. This sort of makes me agree with what Churchill had said once, that we were still not capable of ruling ourselves. Till date our biggest achievement seems to be that we have remained whole as a political entity, even when we have people in our midst who think they are in their right to vandalize a monument to our soldiers when people elsewhere are killed. Oh, and also that we can talk about gifting phones to families below the poverty line.
There, I did not mean to be so caustic in this post. I would like to think that there are promising things happening around us, that we are still living and thriving, Churchill's words be damned. And sure there are, if we look for them. There are little things happening everyday, that show that though all is not well, somethings at least are going in the right way. We have come far from the days of the license raj. Schools are more accessible than in the past. Sensible laws exist, even if they are mere paper tigers, as do sensible people, even if they are not powerful. All is not lost, yet. It is up to us to make the best of what we are provided with, and also to make the lives of those around us better.
So, folks, wish you a very happy Independence Day! May God give us the ability to live up to the dreams of countless people who died fighting for freedom.
Sunday, February 05, 2012
The original story of 'Mayūra' is a fairly familiar one to many of us, from our History classes. An orphan boy raised as a brahmin, Mayura Sharma lives in Kanchi, belonging to the Pallava kingdom. He has an altercation with one of the princes of the kingdom and is forced to leave Kanchi. The rest of the story is about how he overthrows the regime of the Pallavas and establishes the Kadamba kingdom. History tells us this much, and it takes a master craftsman like Devudu to make a beautiful sculpture out of this fine granite. He has added his own details - ministers loyal to the old king, wars fought with the brain and not with brawn, an enemy everyone would wish to have and a love interest. The result is a book that guarantees hours of absorbing reading.
'Mayura' is not as heavy as Devudu's other books**. The language is definitely a lot lighter (more Kannada and less Sanskrit :)). One can see expressions like "ತಲೆ ಕುಟ್ಟ" and "ಬೊಡ್ಡೀ ಮಕ್ಕಳು". Rural Kannada is used very effectively. There is more action and less description and hence this book is much more egalitarian than his other three novels.
In his descriptions, Devudu has followed the path of our classical writers. One cannot forget the way he describes the cow Nandini in his mahabrAhmaNa. It is easy to see the touch of Kalidasa there (बिभ्रती श्वेतरोमाङ्कं सन्ध्येव शशिनं नवम्). It is so even in this book. When Mayura asks how his mother looked, Narasimhadatta replies "ನೇರಳೆ ಹಣ್ಣಿಗಷ್ಟು ಕಪ್ಪನ್ನು ಕೊಡುವ ಕೂದಲು, ದಂತವನ್ನು ಚಿನ್ನದಿಂದ ತೊಳೆದಂತೆ ಮೈಬಣ್ಣ..". As in his other books, the descriptions of nature are lyrical. His writing is poetry in prose. The beauty of this book is that it is definitely a work of great erudition, but also maintains simplicity.
Devudu had an uncanny eye for the beauty of words. He has used a couple of Kalidasa's nuggets to great advantage in Mayura. The first instance is when the Pallava princess Premavati suspects that the merchant Gupta is Mayura himself, and receives a present from him. The present is a peacock (mayUra) that, when given the key, turns around and bows. Later, a priest brings her a message from Gupta, apparently about a dream that he had. Immediately the princess retorts "मायूरी मदयति मार्जना मनांसि", and then, feeling shy, runs away. Now this line occurs in the first act of the Malavikagnimitram. Mother Kaushiki says this line when getting ready for the competition between the dance teachers. In both cases, the very air is full of the moisture of longing and the fragrance of romance. There is the sound of the beating of māyūrī drums keeping time with melodious music, jingling anklets and hearts full of yearning. In that one line of harmless-sounding reply, the princess indicates that she suspects Gupta to be Mayura, and that she is in love with him. An outsider would have just thought that she referred to the gift of the peacock.
The other heartwarming instance happens after the princess is married to Mayuravarma, who is a king by then. She is singing a line from the Meghadūta "इष्टे वस्तुन्युपचितरसाः प्रेमराशीभवन्ति". (My fervent opinion is that each verse from the Meghadūta is a nugget of sheer joy. Well, almost all of them. The beauty of these words, these sounds joined together in the beautiful Mandākrāntā meter is so great that so many times, I cease to think about the meaning and play the sounds in my head over and over again). Again, one can see the queen playing the veena with the king watching her with satisfaction on one side, and on another side there is the yakshi playing the veena, thinking of her husband.
Today is the age of pacifists. While warmongering is not good, it is basic human (even animal) nature to defend one's territory, and not to do so is to go against nature. Mayura probably had another interest in having a cordial relationship with the Pallavas, and so he resorted to bloodless war, even when he had a full-fledged army fighting for him. The warring sequences are simplistic but fantastic, and capture the imagination well. The simplicity and far-fetched-ness of the sieges are just afterthoughts. Such is the writing prowess of Devudu that when one is reading the book, one is sure that that was exactly how Mayura became the king. The plot is woven delicately and intricately, and makes it hard to put the book down once you pick it up.
Incidentally, this book was made into a movie starring Raj Kumar and Manjula. As it is with almost all movies based on books, the movie fails in a lot of things. It does inspire the viewer with patriotism but brings in unnecessary Kannada-Tamil controversy. But it is certainly a movie that can be watched once.
In my opinion, a good book can be differentiated from a not-so-good one by its ability to elevate and calm the mind. All of Devudu's books are just that - good. They leave the reader calm, peaceful and happy. Dear Reader, if you read Kannada but have not read Devudu so far, do find Mayura and read it. And do tell me about it!
*This post was written some time back.
** A note on Devudu: Devudu Narasimha Shastry is a well-known Kannada author. He has written other books like Mahakshatriya, Mahabrahmana and Mahadarshana. Mahakshatriya is the story of King Nahusha and Mahabrahmana is the story of how Kaushika became Vishwamitra. Mahadarshana is the story of Yajnavalkya. This last one can probably be called his magnum opus, because of its depth and the magnanimity of the subject itself. Recently, I also came to know that he translated each verse of the 'Yoga vAsishTha'
Tuesday, July 05, 2011
At that moment, you could have felled me with a fork. Raised in a family of strict vegetarians and married into one, it has never occurred to me to eat anything other than vegetarian. When we were young, the "Eww" factor kept us from eating NV. During college days, I used to try to convert non-vegetarians to vegetarianism. But later, with more reading, I learned to be tolerant of, and accept others eating that kind of food.
Actually, non-vegetarianism is not new to sanātana dharma, and from old texts, it does not look like it was forbidden for Brahmins, either. In the famous story of sage Agastya getting rid of vātāpi, it is evident that he ate vAtApi,in the form of a goat. In the kathāsaritsāgara, there is the story of a brahmin, a servant in a merchant's house, who desired to eat meat -aamisha, and it is just one such example in our literature (On an aside, people who constantly complain that the learned brahmins sitting on high horses kept others away from knowledge should spare a look at classics like kathāsaritsāgara to get a more real and complete picture - but that should be a topic for a separate post). In fact, a story from the same classic explicitly mentions that sanātana dharma endorsed violence and therefore bauddha-dharma was better, because it preached peace and non-violence. If one wants examples from sacred texts themselves, it is very clear that animals were used in various yajñas (horse during aśvamedha and goat during somayāga), until religious leaders like Madhvācārya advocated the use of images of animals made of flour (piṣṭa-paśu).In fact, the manusmṛti says the following about eating animals for food -
'pravṛttireṣa bhūtānāṃ nivṛttistu mahāphalā' |, meaning that this was the tendency of living beings, but abstinence would be greatly beneficial.
Having said all this, this is my view of vegetarianism. Even if all the śāstras of the universe espoused non-vegetarianism, I would not eat non-vegetarian food. For the simple fact that I would be taking the life of another animal to satisfy not just my hunger but also my palate. Our ancestors had a simple reason to resort to eating animals - that of non-availability of food. When people did not know how to grow their own food, it made sense to eat the animals they got by hunting. This reason does not hold during the present time and age. As R says, a person can eat an animal if you kill it. If you can stomach the killing, you can stomach the kill.
Secondly, the animals in the feedlot are treated in a very inhuman way. Not just in crowded ranches abroad, but even in our non-violent country. Chickens, still alive, are often seen packed in metal boxes, with no space to stretch their wings. It is not a rare sight to see live chickens dangling from the handlebars of bicycles. I am sure the situation is no better for other animals in feedlots. Cows in dairy farms are probably treated better, but apparently they are also fed hormones, so that more milk is produced. Also there was this news about artificial insemination for cows. The question is, for how long can we get away with this kind of cruelty to animals?
The third issue is that of resources. Non-vegetarian food consumes a lot of resources. It makes collective economic sense to become vegetarian, or at least, reduce the consumption of non-vegetarian food. Not to mention the health benefits. Other factors being equal, a vegetarian is less likely to develop heart disease than his/her non-vegetarian counterpart. If this is not reason enough for continuing to being a vegetarian, I do not know what else is.
To come back to my Sunshine, I told him that non-vegetarian food was not really healthy and that we did not make it at home. Luckily, that evening, there was this program on Discovery, about catching sharks for their fins (shark-fin soup is apparently a delicacy). It was a bloody (sorry!) gruesome sight - the way the shark was caught, its fins were cut off, and it was thrown back into the water to die (if it was not dead already). My son was watching this too - and R asked him if he would like to do that to any animal. The shocked child replied "No", while I turned away, grinning. For a few more years, us parents can still influence him, at least in the matter of food.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
May the Sun shine bright on Life's winding path
To show us thorns and flowers
May He give us the strength to weed out
The thorns, and leisure to smell the flowers.
May the Earth bless our eyes with her beauty,
And our bodies with her green bounty.
May we tread soft on her fragile cloth
For, without her, we are naught.
May the Moon temper us with her sweet, soft light,
That we may not lose sight, even at night
May the stars always guide us from their heavenly homes
That we may never wander far, away from our homes
May the new year bring cheer all around
From the humble farmer to those who don the crown.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Monday, February 15, 2010
“Isn’t he beautiful, Papa?” exclaims the child, peering at me with his bright eyes. I simper and say “Come on, kiddo! I know we all look the same to you!” The boy is thrilled to hear me growl, and his father is beaming at his son’s enthusiasm.
* * * * * * * * * *
A wet sun smiles from behind the clouds. I like this weather and this time of the day. I like the visitors that come at this time. They are fresh and enthusiastic. Some people even make notes. Though we are separated by grilles and walls that would not give way even if I rammed against them with all my strength, my life has been woven inextricably with the humans. The visitors are my life now.
The stories that Mother used to tell me, all contained the same kind of moral – do not stray into unknown places, do not eat food unless you have caught it, but each time I ignored her. I used to be a very curious baby, and was quite a handful. I am still paying for my curiosity – that was what got me here, the point of no return. And then she used to tell me horror stories about humans, about how we were made to perform rope-tricks and jump through fire-circles just to amuse them. Oh, Mother, if you knew that this place is not even remotely like that! You sure did know a lot, you had seen a lot of the world, but I assure you that this place that you called a circus was only in your imagination!
* * * * * * * * * *
I come out of my world of thoughts and take a walk in the backyard. My shadow gets shorter on the ground painstakingly made to mimic a forest. A cloud hides the sun and I am able to look up at the vast blue dome above, dotted with white and light-grey clouds. Back in the forest, we could only catch glimpses of narrow strips of the sky, slightly wider strips when we were wading in the water. But here in the zoo, I can trace the path of the sun from one side of the sky to the other. Looking at the Sun, some of my friends here can even say when the people stop visiting for the day.
My neighbor Belli, a fine female, beckons to me. We share the same spacious backyard. The poor thing was born in captivity, and has never seen a forest. I tell her about large pools where we can wade to our hearts content (“you can actually swim?”) and about tall trees (“you mean, taller than this?” indicating a mango tree that grew nearby). She listens, wide-eyed, my only friend in the whole world. “Hi!” I cry out. She responds with a growl and walks towards me. She brushes her head against mine, her way of greeting me. She points to a loudly dressed lady carrying a small baby, pointing at us excitedly. "If I could kill, I would kill that woman over there, if only to stop her from staring at me like that" she says, looking at her. "But I won't, because I can't" and smiles a little sadly. Somehow, Belli cannot understand the concept of killing to eat, and cannot stomach the fact that I have killed before. How can any self-respecting tiger pounce on a helpless animal and kill it, asks she. "I would not do it" she affirms, "not if I were dying of hunger". I retort "Oh, but you have hardly ever died of hunger; you have always gotten something to eat daily!” Belli refuses to back down. “Oh, but don’t you realize what you are doing to the poor thing? You have probably killed a mother deer who was still feeding a baby – have you ever thought how forlorn the baby would be without its Mom? Why, look at you! Can you tell me you don’t miss your Mom? ...” So goes her lecture. The loudly dressed woman is forgotten by my dear non-violent friend.
“There’s lunch!” Belli announces. I turn my head and see the big green noisy animal (bigger than an elephant!) bringing us our lunch. Humans are so scared of us that they just leave our food someplace for us to get it. "They do not know about non-violent tigers like you", I tease Belli. She smiles. We part for lunch.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Really, one of the best parts of living in a zoo is that we get food regularly, without worrying if our teeth and nails are sharp enough, or about the time when they do become too blunt for us to hunt. Tigers like Belli who do not know a world apart from the zoo even tend to be non-violent, unlike me and my Mother. We were fierce. Mother taught me how to draw my nails in and walk noiselessly, how to wait silently for the prey to get near, and how to time my jumps. Oh, the thrill when I caught and killed a deer!
I still remember that night. The whole forest was shining in the glory of the full moon. I was almost a year old, but had not yet hunted on my own. I walked noiselessly with Mother by my side. And then I smelled my favorite food- deer. It was a young buck lying under the cover of a shrub, about to sleep. He probably smelled me as I drew near, for he started and stood up with a jerk. One glance to the left told him that his end was near. He tried to get away from me. I pounced on him (mercilessly, would Belli say?). A couple of jumps and I was on him. He struggled and tried to hurt me, but I held on to his neck tightly with my teeth. A few seconds, and it was all over. I had earned my first meal.
I was tired, and bruised where the antlers hit me. My beaming Mother came and gently licked it. That made the pain go away, really. Joy in the fact that I was an independent little cub and relief in the fact that she would no longer have to hunt for four, danced on Mother's face. Suddenly I felt all grown-up and important. The deer was fresh and tasty back there, unlike the food that we get here. I confess, I have never come across any tiger that felt a pang in its heart when it was about to kill. The idea that Belli presented to me was completely new. The memory of the smell of deer makes my mouth water, even after two months in the zoo. I walk wearily to my lunch of beef.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
My nap is rudely interrupted by the loud clanking of the door of my cell. I look up to see the friendly person who opens my mouth and examines my ears and all that. They call him “Doc”, funny name it is, for a funny man. I look at the big thorn in his hand and sigh. I know that is for immobilizing me if they think I am becoming dangerous.
I let Doc do the check-up. There is another person with him today and he is watching Doc impatiently with a frown, hands in his pouches. After what seemed like ages, Doc patted me with a satisfied smile and left. Later in the day, I asked Belli who the other person was. She said he was called a ‘researcher’. Then a shadow passed over her face. She shook her head, and said “I don’t like him”. I told her I did not like him either. He made one’s flesh creep. “You don’t know him”, she said. “They sometimes take us away to do what they call experiments... It is not nice”. Then, she became a little more cheerful, and said “At least we are not in the circus! Here we sleep and jump when we want to. Those poor things do not even have that luxury!” So, this place called circus existed, after all! My head was reeling.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The days in the zoo are very tiring. My limbs ache to jump long distances. The water in the excuse for a pool that we have here does not even come up to my stomach, forget swimming in it. I go and wet my legs in the water and look up. There are people, people and more people. Some look at us with wonder, some without any interest, some with pity, and almost all of them are afraid of us. Afraid of letting us go nearer to them than we are now. Belli tells me often that zoo is better for a tiger than forests, because apparently we live a little longer in zoos than in forests. Ah well…
* * * * * * * * * * * *
My Mother never stopped us from exploring. When we were very young, we used to stay close to Mother, to be safe. I, being just a little more adventurous than the average tiger, would stray more than I was allowed to. And see where it brought me!
Should curiosity and exploration stop at a certain stage? What can we say about humans, who have given themselves the supreme authority to rule, maim and kill other animals? If the humans had shown us some consideration a few decades ago, the likes of me would not have to languish in this place that is practically a prison. Belli tells me often about a captive tiger that lost a fight against a bull. A couple more months in the zoo, and I will not be able to combat a lamb, let alone a grown bull. Just to live a couple of years more, do I need to sacrifice my tiger-ness? All around me in the zoo, I can see animals that are striped and sharp-toothed, but I cannot see even one tiger. I will also cease to be one soon.