15 August 2009

63 years of Independence: India celebrates its I-Day today, August 15

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we will redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance …. We end today a period of ill fortune, and India discovers herself again.”

From the historic All India Radio broadcast Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had made….

We have come a long way since then. What remains of what India was and what I wish for in the days ahead, to retain as Indian, is what this post about.

What remains are some of the things I would work to cherish and ‘retain’.

The essence of Indianness: the willingness to accept, working from the abundance mentality, “jodi hao shujon, tentul pataey nau jon” (translated from Bangla, it means, ‘if you are good neighbours, if you are good people, nine of you can easily fit onto a single leaf from the tamarind tree’ ūüôā I love that. About my country.

Since ancient times, for years there has been a constant influx of people from different parts of the world, from different cultures – they came, brought their horses, clothes, food, religion, books, art, philosophy, technology, wisdom – blending into the melting pot called India.

Persians became Parsis, set up their fire temples, their businesses;  the wild war like pardesis from the middle east of Asia;  the Greeks came with Alexander and settled in Kashmir;  the Sindhis, the Afghans crossed the silk route across the Kyber pass in the northern frontier;  the Portuguese, the Spaniards, the French crossed the Indian ocean;  the Turks, the Armenians, the Chinese (you have Chinatown in Kolkata);  the displaced Tibetans, Nepalis, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis.

There has been only one kind of discrimination ever in this country : the Hindus vs Muslims.

It flamed into devastating riots breaking the country into three parts, (Bangladesh, Pakistan, India) only after the Brits lit the fire under the bomb before they left India. The LoC is one of their legacies too. The Koh-i-Noor sailed away to England as did numerous priceless paintings, documents,  with the last English ship leaving India at last to its own fate. They had left the famous muslin industry crushed, having cut off the thumbs of muslin weavers  to sustain the textile of Manchester. That I would never ever see a genuine piece of muslin silk  is thanks to the Brits.

And yet – irony is we learned our first lessons of Nationality from them!

And this is what is the typical Indianness I admire about my country, every single Englishman, Scotsman, Irishman,  Germans, every single philosopher, missionary, teacher, doctors, musician, nurse, soldier, benevolent tea planter, wives, husbands Рwere welcomed with open arms. Not one of them would have a single tale of woe to tell of discrimination on grounds of colour or creed to recount to grandchildren.

We let them be even as we studied them, learned from them, explained to them gently our ways (India never has been an aggressor), waited patiently till they learned to value what was our age old customs and traditions and we were rewarded at some point with their excited discovery and ‘show the world India’ enterprises.

We are proud of these Europeans that made our country their home. Mother Teresa (a Macedonian),¬† Sister Nivedita (an American) assisting Vivekananda at the RK Missions, the Mother (French) with Sri Aurobindo in Pondicherry, numerous others working with Rabindranath Tagore at Shantiniketan. William Hiki’s Gazette is still revered, remembered.

Back home in Kolkata, we still like to call New Market ‘Firpos’ because we feel sentimental about the foreigners that we loved and that loved us ūüôā

I remember with respect today the numerous European, Scandinavian, Italian nuns and priests, Mother Provincials,  that taught us who we were, when we were young and in school.

We proudly named our roads after these foreigners ( ‘aliens’ as they are called in the US) awards, grants, schools, colleges too. Annie Beasant was the first to set up her Theosophical society where Bengalis from different communities and religious backgrounds got together to study ‘planchet’ and theories related to the spiritual legacy of the dead.

Bethune College is where¬† fellow OS er Traveler1 studied, one of the best girl’s collegiate schools in India,¬† not forgetting the Lady Brabourne College for Women in Kolkata or the St Xavier’s or the La Mratiniere or the Scottish Church College or the Loretos.

Then there is the German that¬† India loves, Karl Marx,¬† (Max Mueller Bhavan is looked upon as an important cultural hubs in cities like Kolkata and Pune) that in a way ‘presented’ India to the world as it were, for the first time, translating our ancient Sanskrit texts into modern world languages for us, proving how nearly 80% of world languages were born out of it, initiating India studies, causing the Asiatic Society to be formed.

Through him we learned that Sanskrit has the world’s first documented grammar! If it wasn’t for him, it would surely have taken another hundred years.

Religious bigotry is a pain in the ass, oppression of women is a headache, social development is dragging, economy is struggling to keep up with pressures from within and without Рterrorism is ripping the tapestry of our psyche  Рand yet, every time I attempt to РI can still find my self, untarnished, the spirit in pieces, chipped, but mended with the cellotape of the slightest support it managed to glean from all over the geographical space inside the earth.

We have been attacked, plundered, devastated by invasion – yes – but I would like to remember today, how without these ‘encounters’ as it were, we would not have been what we are today.

We have a history of living with Strangers that came and became one of us. We welcomed them in our space even when we didn’t have enough. And at the time when we were one of the richest worlds of the ancient times.

I am proud that we are culturally not scared of strangers. I do not feel threatened to expose myself to alien cultures. Or communities. That is being Indian for me.

On the occasion of our Independence Day, I salute the legacies that thousands of pardesis have left behind as their loving tribute to India.


spooky stats, unreliable stats or meddling?

This is about stats on this blog. Am not an avid blogger. And am not that concerned about statistics either. Generally I do not even notice the counter to check the number of hits this site gets.

But today, because I had written something that I had reason to believe is controversial, I had checked when I opened my browser window. Usually with Firefox you have the option of saving tabs as they are when you log off and are closing the window. Next time you log in it opens exactly at the same page and state that you left it earlier.

So what I had seen at first was the hit counter showing a number that was like 9743 or  9763.

Suddenly when I went to a different page of the blog and came back the number had changed to 9277! 500 short of what there was almost.

I have a vague impression that I had seen this at other times but because I had never consciously wanted to know is why I always thought it must be my mistake and in any case what does it matter?

But tonight I had checked and therefore was surprised to see this aberration.

It is spooky – is someone playing tricks with this site? I often a huge number of bad spam written in bad Russian which is also quite surprising. Never anything else but that.

It is eerie, scary. Disturbing. I hope am wrong and everything is fine and that this would stop.

O even as I finished this went back and see the 9277 is gone and it is back where it was 9747 in the hit counter….this is scary…..

bloody birthday gift

my birthday falls on the third week of December.

usually,¬† my birthday is fraught with the unexpected –¬† unexpected guests, unexpected mail from long lost friends who pick on this day to reconnect and be lost again ūüėČ ,unexpected trips, unexpected encounters – nearly¬† always of¬† course – encounters of the third kind

this December it looked like am going to have to be alone – people said they were busy, friends seemed to be too far away, the rut too deep to scramble out of, nobody to offer a hand to help me tide over the chasm of the dark unknown I was trying not to fall into….but once again unexpectedly I felt this strange presence in my life…

there seems to be a benevolent Hand on my head…someone keeps taking care of me in unusual ways – and keeps me from falling off the edge altogether…often am allowed to dangle there – but someone pulls me back off the edge to safety in time –¬† this is the God experience I have had in my life that keeps faith alive

this December it was a strange mix of unaccounted for affection from strangers,¬† prayers from a man you had not met even a day earlier, for my well being,¬† at the¬† sea side temple of Somnath centuries old – messages from a friend in Sion-Mumbai I thought had long since given up on me, a long distance call from so far away it makes the head reel to think of the kms that this voice might have traveled and the mind – to get to me – it did find me ….the forest department’s kind accommodating gestures
and then there was the dark Gir jungles and strange thoughts in a strange mind that I failed to read,
and bloody experiences to wizen me to the world.

a couple of days filled with highs and lows that was out of the ordinary – days that I would like to remember

Paul’s Hell and His Hell-Fighter


I will be     fully me until the end of me,

until the fully unavoidable occurs.

While in hell, I am Hell-Fighter,

the flip-side of my coin ‚Äď a calm

blinder than rage

whose name hell can’t contain.

Paul Maurice

in Hell III: The Human Animal in Hell



Any thoughts on what sorts of things really do work to help put the worst things that can happen to us in a perspective that isn’t bitter or resentful?


I think that for people who have experienced major hardship, this can be a difficult topic. So was forgiveness, which we looked at several months ago. Maybe there’s a relationship between the two subjects.

Paul Maurice

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

when she met her tree

The tree stood before her with its branches full of new leaves. As the breeze blew it’s leaves rustled, creating tiny green ripples in the air. Many of them turned to reveal the silvery¬†underside. It¬†made her think of the word¬† ‘shimmering‘. The blue sky formed the backdrop and it was a beautiful video – just one scene but several frames long and she wanted to stay there and watch it for a long time.

There was nowhere to go anyway. No one was waiting for her. No…wait…someone was waiting for her. But this person was usually never in a hurry with her. She could get back when she was ready. There would be no angry probes or annoying noise. It was, in fact, too¬†quiet with this person. No conversation except the one-sided ones she made constantly.

But this video made her want to stay out. She decided she would stay to watch, as long as there was light. When the day grew old and the heat became unbearable she would return – to her shelter.

She liked looking at pictures. She could spend hours gazing at them. Sometimes, if she liked it enough she would step into them in her mind. But she could only do that with a landscape. Because she can only do this with a landscape, she liked landscapes better than other pictures.

This one here was such a picture and she was already actually inside the frame. She could go forward and touch that tree if she wanted.

As she gazed, she became more intensely conscious of the azure autumn sky overhead.¬†It created¬†so much space around the tree. It made it look regal. Her first thought had been ‘so like a king’.

A beautiful person like that tree, she thought, she had yet to meet. She thought of all the people she has known since her childhood. She tried to think who might have been like that tree. So beautiful. So uniformly shaded and luminous and rooted and lively and straight and young and bright. And warm!

So many people came close. But no one fit the description exactly. A few people she knew resembled that tree in some ways.

She wanted to call her tree something Рgive it a name, so she could call the tree in her mind and leave a message with it. She had been told in her childhood by her grandmother that if one left messages at places one liked, one gets a chance to come back Рto get the answers to those messages perhaps. And she wanted to return to this tree, one more time, someday.

Emerald Gold? The leaves really were more emerald silver. In fact, it was darker than emerald. No fire. Just freshness and sublime light reflecting from it. It was just early morning sunlight, but she thought ‘sublime’. But why was she thinking in terms of how¬†it looked? Why couldn’t her tree have a name that had to do with her feelings for it instead?

Well, in that case, she realized, she would have to check her feelings and examine what these feelings have been to find a name. Fascinated. Soothed. Wonder-struck. Comforted. Nostalgic…

And Love. Yes, she had felt so much love when she looked at her tree. So much love filled her little soul that it hurt. She felt it might explode unless she let off some of it somewhere in some manner.

With love what it is, you can’t just dump it anywhere you will. There has to be space for it. It has to fit in. To be absorbed into the general design or scheme of things. Unless there is that space it is impossible to put love there. It would be rejected and you would have to take it right back and put it where it belonged. Otherwise there usually is a mess. And when there is a mess, people complain. And there is a lot of noise. She hated noise.

She scanned her mind for some such space, but couldn’t think of where she could put hers, where there might be space…

What if….but this person at home had plenty already as there were¬†many to offer theirs constantly – with this person, it was like waiting in a queue outside the altar in a Hindu temple. There is so much waiting that one’s mind wanders until it forgets why it was there or about the offering. She looked at her tree one more time. The fluttering leaves seemed to smile at her.

She felt tired suddenly. She felt her feet aching. She looked around for a stone or a boulder upon which she could sit for a while. There was none.

So she turned and started walking away. She forgot to leave a message.

The day was still young. The heat was not unbearable yet. The breeze continued to blow the lovely leaves of her tree over and under the light swaying branches. Everything was just the way it was when she had wanted to stay. Yet, she was walking away. Something inside had flipped.

She left but didn’t reach home that day. There would be another, for that, she thought.

please note: photoments are photographic moments that stay in memory and leave an impression in someway, changing the way I live and think for better or for worse, or revealing something about the person I am or have become.

I want to cry at times

I have been appointed to fill in for a teacher who used to teach classes IX and X. With the current batch gone for their board exams, and the syllabus finished in the other class, I have nothing much to do at school. So I end up with a lot of substitution classes filling in for teachers who are absent or on leave. On one such substi, I found myself with a set of bubbly, chubby, cheruby set of nine and ten year olds. This was class V-C. It was my very first day with them, and I knew I would not be taking their class henceforth, it was a one day event, so we had name games and quiz and as is usual with me I had done lots of drawings on the board. Every time they came up with their adjectives or answers, I would immediately do an illustration on the board. They appeared to be excited and amused to see their ideas become pictures on the board and there had been lots of laughter and good cheer. They were surprised but very happy to see miss doing that.

In convents, substis are not fun periods, one gets a regular teaching class and the children get their regular dose of class work and home work too. It happened that in this next¬†class (today actually)¬†I was asked to do Mode of Narration.¬†We were studying reported speech. There obviously was a lot of conversation and a good deal of ‘noise’. At one point,¬†with their enthusiasm bursting out of hand, the babies started to get out of their places and by ones and twos began to gather around me. Now this is unexpected and also not done in such set ups where there is a large number of children in the class (this particular one had sixty). The children at the back, restricted by the¬†furniture¬†are held back and so they try to keep the teacher’s attention by shouting. In short the whole room looks chaotic from the outside.

So on this occasion, being a new teacher here, I decided to get everybody seated first. That way, I¬†announced everybody¬†would be able to see everybody else and we could have everyone participating in turn. The cherubs, when they could hear me, started trickling back, away from the teacher’s bay, but it still looked crowded and I felt I still didn’t have enough space to move, so I closed my eyes and raised my hand in a gesture of counting silently (I had witnessed the gesture produce great results in one of my erstwhile colleague’s classes). The idea was to communicate that by the count of all¬†the fingers in my hands the class should settle down in their places so we could proceed with the lesson (‘better be fingers of¬† only ONE hand’¬†being the subversive threat).

Now everybody was in place. I was ready to resume from where we had to stop. But I could not. A¬†thin little hand shot up in the air. Interruption. I didn’t want it at the time. So I ignored it firmly and tried to carry on, “so then, what¬†changes¬†do you see¬†in this sentence here”, but this child had got up. She was scrambling¬†out of her place and hurrying¬†in front, and another one behind her and another one from my right. ‘No’ I indicated silently. I mouthed ‘please’ and waved both my hands – go back! There was a pause, then instead of clearing away two more started very determinedly, very eager¬†urgent expressions on their little faces “Miss…”.Like it was¬†a matter of life and death…But am in no mood to humour that now. I am new. I don’t even have my own slots yet. I can’t make up if I mess up the time-table.¬†O-o no! Not now! Have to finish this, I would not get a second class and I can’t keep something incomplete and go away. Today is the 5th. Deadline for completing syllabus is the 8th. What is she doing? No, please bachha (kid), get back, let me finish this first…bachha nods but completes her little journey anyway and fumblingly spreads this piece of paper out on the teacher’s desk, briefly looks up at me, hesitates for a few seconds. Doesn’t get the friendly response. Quickly¬†runs back to her seat.

Seemed like some drawing. Now what has that got to do with mode of speech? Silly girl. O, ok, would look at it later. I give her a smile¬†then not to acknowledge but mainly to get her attention in place (selfish, limited, teacher’s reason) and¬†firmly placed a duster upon it without really looking,¬†determined not to be sidetracked from mode of speech again. Nobody says a word after this and the lesson is duly completed. Am happy when the bell rings. “O great! You have been great bachhas, thank you for being good” and am preparing to leave.¬†Little figures all hands and feet rush at me, eyes like little¬†chunks of diamonds, shining brightly, “It’s Blessing – do you like it?” What blessing?¬†The picture? I open it casually to look. And¬†this is what I find there :

the lovely dream of a set of lovely people, so naive…this is so absolutely humbling.

It made me want to cry.

Blessing is a child, a thin little girl with a pale shy face and a quite little voice. Here is her wish for her dear teacher who didn’t even know her name and nearly tried to ignore her out of her skin in her stupid attempt to ‘finish’ a ‘lesson’! Whose lesson? What lesson? And can one really ‘finish’ lessons anyway? A lesson the teacher¬†learns then…