Sunday, December 24, 2006

Things are not always what they seem to be

(Another little story, which came my way as a forward that had passed through a few dozen--or more--inboxes, but a lovely message that made it in handwriting into my little notebook.)

Two travelling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion's guest room. Instead, the angels were given a small space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the angel replied, "Things are not always what they seem."

The next night, the pair came to rest at the home of a very poor but hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night's rest. When the sun came up the next morning, the angel found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income lay head in the field.

The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, "How could you have let this happen? The first man had everything yet you helped him. The second family had little but was willing to share everything and you let the cow die!"

"Things aren't always what they seem," the older angel replied. "When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in the hole in the wall. Since the owner was so greedy and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn't find it."

"Then last night, as we slept in the farmer's bed, Death came for the farmer's wife. I gave him the cow instead. Things aren't always what they seem."

Sometimes that is exactly what happens when things don't seem to happen the way they ideally should. If you have faith, you just need to trust that things will ultimately turn out to your advantage. You might not know it until much later, but you will, someday. So, keep faith, and wish you a very merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

You don't have to be perfect!

This is an excerpt from an article by Harold Kushner that appeared in the February 1998 issue of Reader's Digest. I was re-reading the issue today when I thought I must post this on my blog. I hope publishing the excerpt in my blog qualifies as "fair use". Frankly, if it doesn't, I don't care, because such a lovely message should reach more and more people irrespective of copyright restrictions! Wish people will copyleft such beautiful articles.

Life is not a trap set for us by God to catch and condemn us for failing. Life is not a spelling test, where no matter how many words you've got right, you are disqualified if you make one mistake. Life is more like a football league, where even the best team loses some of its games and even the worst team has its day of brilliance. Our goal is to win more games than we lose.

When we accept that imperfection is part of being human, and when we continue rolling through life and appreciating it, we will have achieved a wholeness that others can only aspire to do. That, I believe is what God asks of us - not "Be Perfect", not "Don't ever make a mistake", but "Be whole".

And at the end, if we are brave enough to love, strong enough to forgive, generous enough to rejoice in another's happiness and wise enough to know there is enough love to go around for us all, then we can achieve a fulfilment no other living creature will ever know.

We can re-enter paradise.

The Wholeness of Being

I took my test from a little book called "The Missing Piece" by Shel Silverstein which I can describe only as being a fairy tale for adults. It tells the story of a circle that was missing a piece. A large triangular wedge had been cut out of it. The circle wanted to be whole with nothing missing, so it went around looking for the missing piece. But because it was incomplete and therefore could roll only very slowly, it admired the flowers along the way; it chatted with worms; it enjoyed the sunshine. It found lots of different pieces but none of them fit. So, it kept searching.

Then, one day, the circle found a piece that fit perfectly. It was so happy. Now, it could be whole, with nothing missing. It incorporated the missing piece into itself and began to roll. Now that it was a perfect circle, it could roll fast, too fast to notice the flowers or talk to the worms. When it realised how different the World seemed when it rolled quickly, it stopped, left its new-found piece by the side of the road and rolled slowly away!

The lesson of the story was that in some strange way, we are more whole when we are missing something. The man who has everything is in some ways poor. He will never know what it feels like to yearn, to hope, to nourish his soul with the dream of something better. He will never have the experience of having someone who loves him give him something he always wanted but never had.
I couldn't agree more! A person who has everything will never understand the real worth of friends, family and the people who love them. They will never know the experience of fear, longing, hope and even disappointment, which ultimately make the good things in life seem pronounced and more valuable than ever. Today, on reading this article for the umpteenth time, I resolved to be whole, rather than perfect! You wanna dare to make that resolution too?

Friday, December 01, 2006

Facts from my file - to prove we can always make do with what we have

We spend so much of our time bemoaning what we don't have - unfulfilled wishes, unavailability of resources, lack of time, unexpected twists in our life courtesy destiny, and what not. Me inclusive... thanks to some unexpected events, I have wallowed in enough self-pity and have cribbed enough over the last month to last me a lifetime! Phew! Never again.

But, in truth, if we just spend a little time thinking over the past, we'll realise, not from examples of others' lives but from our own that if we let life run its course we adapt to situations of scarcity, abundance, joy, sorrow et al quite effortlessly - as long as we don't consciously think about something as a disadvantage.

Here is a simple example:

a) Till 1 1/2 years ago, I did not have a mobile phone. I was still in touch with all my acquaintances and was able to manage all my work correspondences also. In fact, when I ultimately got a mobile phone, it took me time to get used to the fact that I had a phone - I would forget it at home all the time! When Vibhor, then the associate editor of BenefIT, used to call my mobile to clarify any doubts in my articles, inevitably my mom would pick it up and tell him that I've forgotten it at home... as usual! Today, I hesitate to give my mobile instrument for repair for a day... I wonder what I'd do without it. So, I was able to live without a mobile at one point of time; I am able to live with it as well today.

b) When I started writing, I did not have a computer all my own! Some articles I've written by hand. Some articles I've typed and taken print-outs when my dad was not using his computer. Even at that point of time, I got articles published.

c) Then, my dad gave me his laptop. I had a computer! What a luxury... I could type my articles whenever I wanted. But still no Internet connection. I would have to copy the articles onto a floppy disk (ha ha, yes, CDs were too expensive, and well my computer didn't have a CD writer anyways), take it to my dad's computer and then email it to the editors. You guessed it right - a dial-up connection. And I'd also use my dad's computer whenever he was out visiting clients, to do all my Web-based research.

d) Then, my father got an unlimited broadband connection. So, we bought a small Ethernet chord too, so I could take my laptop to his office, connect it to his computer and then connect to the Internet through it. he graciously allowed me a corner of his table where I would set my computer to connect to his. But, everytime a client visited, I'd be booted out (obviously!) and even otherwise, er, it is not really the best experience to sit in your dad's office table all the time. Over time, both of you start glaring at each other a little helplessly.

e) Next, we bought 40 metres of Ethernet cable and a D-Link switch and pulled the cable up to my room, so I could sit in my room and work. Wow!

f) Then, I bought my own laptop (don't ask me how many months I saved for it!) Double WOW!

g) Now, dad has set up a Wireless Router in his office room, so both my father and I can sit and work in any room in the house, even the balcony. Bliss!

I realised that at no stage did I really feel as if I did not have the "resources" to work. Throughout I was able to manage a decent number of articles per month. When I did not have a computer three articles a month seemed amazing, when I had a computer but limited Internet access, six to eight articles seemed great, and with unlimited Internet and my own computer, I can now average around 20 articles a month! So, resources evolve, work evolves. It's all about changing with the times. But throw me back to the pre-Internet age now, and I wonder if I can manage :-) Now, that would be a real challenge - er, don't pose it to me!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

In God's Great Economy, Nothing Goes To Waste

(Some of the stories we read in the "moral story books" when we were young, some of the stories we receive through email forwards, they have beautiful messages--I have a little notebook in which I record those that touch my heart. Here is one of them. I really do not know who wrote this--if it is you, please let me know :-))

(Photo by Rosh PR, open-sourced under CreativeCommons Attribution-ShareAlike License)

A water-bearer in India had two large pots, each hung on each end of a pole which he carried across his shoulders. One of the pots had a crack in it. While the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the cracked pot arrived only half full. For a full two years this went on, with the bearer being able to deliver only 1 1/2 pots of water to the master's house, in each trip. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments, perfect to the end for which it was made. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its imperfection and miserable that it was able to accomplish only half of what it had been made to do.

After two years of what it perceived to be a bitter failure, it spoke to the water-bearer one day, by the stream, "I am ashamed of myself and I want to apologise to you."

"Why?" asked the water-bearer.

"I have been able, for these two years, to deliver only half my load because the crack causes the water to leak out, all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaw, you have to do a lot of extra work and do not get the full value of your efforts," the pot said.

The water-bearer felt sorry for the old pot, and said, "As we return to the master's house, I want you to notice the lovely flowers along the path."

Indeed, as they went up the hill, the old cracked pot took notice of the Sun warming the beautiful flowers on the side of the path, and felt a little comforted. But at the end of the trail, it felt bad again for having leaked half the water and apologised once more to the water-bearer.

The bearer replied, "Did you notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path and not on the other pot's side? This is because I have always known about your flaw and I took advantage of it. I planted flowering plants on your side of the path, and every day while walking back from the stream, you have watered them! For two years, I have been able to pick these pretty flowers to decorate my master's table. Without you being just the way you are, he would not have this beauty to grace his house."

Really, which of us is without faults? None that I know of. Sometimes we think God has His faults too... we blame Him for things that go wrong, we chide Him for attacking us with misfortune... indeed we see errors in everybody! Perhaps, ultimately, it is in our perception. Perhaps we forget to look at the person in the mirror and say, "Perhaps this is how things are meant to be! Why not take it in the right spirit and tweak this to our advantage?" Why not, really? Surely, that will mean a lot of "innovative" thought, in addition to overall optimism, but I am sure, if we make it a habit, then our eternal quest for "happiness" will end, successfully :-)

Monday, November 27, 2006

Some words are worth re-reads

There are some portions of some books which you feel like savouring word by word, and then re-read as well. Here is one such paragraph from Tom Kelley's The Ten Faces of Innovation:

“Many have wondered how the bumblebee flies at all, with its bulky body and tiny, fragile-looking wings. But the bumblebee doesn’t know that, so it goes on flying anyway. Perhaps the answer lies, as it does with so many things hard to comprehend, in the sum of the parts… Maybe like the bumblebee you too are an unlikely hero. Do you have wide interests, a voracious curiosity, and an aptitude for learning and teaching? Are there others on your team who have an aptitude for playing this role? You may find your wings can flap faster than ever before.”

Hmmm... a little unfair I think!

Pity Marjorie Wilson had to pick a lousy stretch to travel. I mean, we have some brilliant stretches of landscape too, alongside our rail-tracks. Pretty unfair comparison, this! But wonder when she made this unfortunate journey! Definitely many many years ago, perhaps during the Raj!

From the Train
By Marjorie Wilson

In England from the train you see
Green fields and peaceful cows and sheep,
And lazy farmsteads racing by
In smoke-blue valleys quiet with sheep;

And primroses and meadow sweet,
And daisies white about the way;
And you can trace the paths that wind
To where the trees are snowed with may.

In India from the stifling train
You see great rocky hills go by;
Brown miles of parched, unhappy grass,
And hot blue tracts of cloudless sky.

And slow, indifferent bullocks too,
Well laden on the dusty roads--
And then a station where you stop,
With brightly-coloured chattering crowds.

And rows and rows of tiny huts,
And young green rice, or sugar-cane,
And little dark-skinned boys and girls
Who wonder at the rumbling train.

And many scorching miles you go,
And sometimes weary days you spend
Gazing across that burning land
And dreaming of your journey's end.


Last week, I saw an amazing performance at Kalakshetra, Chennai. It was a two-day programme showcasing Manipuri culture, especially dance (of the pre-Vaishnavite era) and martial arts. Unfortunately, I could go only on the second day, but I must say, I am glad I did not miss it!

The programme was titled "Dhaan-thi". Dhaan means sword and Thi means spear. It was a fusion of martial arts and ritualistic war dances of Manipur with the best distinctly-Manipuri percussion (the instruments give out a ringing, resounding, echo-accompanied sound!), string and tribal music I've ever heard till date.

And it was the greatest display of discipline, coordination and skill that I've ever seen. The senapathi fought blind-folded with his sword, and trust me, the swords were not blunt - we actually saw the sparks fly when the swords clashed!

And then they started a fire, lit the ends of their spears (not exactly spears, but rods, what we call pandham in Thamizh) and danced with that, with unbelievable coordination. The women joined with clay lamps in their hands (not the diya style dainty things, but proper holders of fire!) and together they expressed the power of youth and faith in peace and resurgence in the face of all the insurgence that the North East is suffering from.

But I must say, this is the best percussion music or display of ancient warfare skills that I've ever seen. Seriously!

Now you know why I love Chennai so much. In this city, if you have a thirst for arts and culture, you can get it in abundance. And what's more, everybody can afford it... this program, for one, was free, non-ticketed and sponsored, as are numerous such programs, ever so often!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Meet Chennai...

If Mumbai depicts the pulse of India, West Mambalam depicts the pulse of Chennai! Well, should I call it the Munirka of Chennai, I don't know... all I know is that it is one of my favourite locales in the city.

Dhoti-clad men and boys, Merc-driving executives, pundits, and Jeans-sporting youngsters on their speedsters coexist with women in nine-yard and six-yard sarees, young girls with plaited hair and wearing their long silk skirts and blouses (paavadai-sattai), teenagers in their Jeans, T-shirts or even pyjama suits, and working women in their salwar kameezes. Not to forget children of all ages who go to the best schools in town and talk in impeccable English in the mornings, and unfailingly attend their music/dance/Veda classes in the evenings!

Temples, bhajan-mandalis, supermarkets, kirana stores, wholesale grocery and vegetable mandi-s, Udupi hotels and fast-food stalls, "Chips centres" and "Bholi stalls", West Mambalam has it all.

Well, what triggered these pleasant recollections... I was passing through West Mambalam today and noticed that a street was called "Shyamala Vadana Street". Where else can you find such aesthetic and beautiful Sanskrit street names?!!

Ensuring a sane stomach...

Deepavali obviously means endless feasting! Perhaps in order to ensure the sanity of our stomachs even when we go overboard gorging on the delecacies during the festive season, Deepavali Legiyam is prepared in Tam-Brahm households during Diwali. In fact, it is even offered to God along with the sweets!

This is an herbal medicine. The ideal dosage is one teaspoon of this legiyam, and it is best eaten wrapped in a betel leaf. Each family has its own recipe for this, varying the ingredients according to their taste. Here’s my grandmother’s recipe.

Recipe for Deepavali Legiyam

Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 30 minutes
Makes 1 – 2 cups of legiyam

½ cup pepper
¼ cup coriander seeds (dhania)
1 tbsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1 tbsp thyme seeds (ajwain)
A one-rupee coin sized piece of dry ginger
10 cardamoms (elaichi)
10 cloves (lavang)
½ cup ghee
2 – 2 ½ tbsp of honey
Around 1 ½ - 2 cups of powdered jaggery (depends on the quantity of paste obtained)


1. Soak all the ingredients (except honey, ghee and jaggery) in hot water for half an hour or till they are soft.

2. Drain the water and grind the soaked ingredients in a mixer-grinder using required amount of the same water in which they were soaked, to make a thick smooth paste. Measure this ground paste.

3. The amount of jaggery to be used can be 1 ½ to 2 times the amount of paste obtained, according to your taste. That is, if you get 1 portion of ground paste, you can use 1 ½ - 2 portions of powdered jaggery.

4. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat required water. Add the powdered jaggery and continue heating till it dissolves completely. Filter the jaggery water to remove any impurities.

5. Add the ground paste to the jaggery water. Add more water if required to obtain a gravy-like consistency. (For the raw smell to go, the paste should cook for some time before it becomes semi-solid. So make sure you add enough water and start with a gravy/ sambhar-like consistency).

6. Then keep it on the stove and continue heating, stirring constantly. The final consistency of the legiyam after cooling should be like chyawanprash, but remember that the legiyam will definitely thicken a little on cooling. So, continue heating only till the paste cooks well, the raw smell goes and the mixture comes to a semi-solid (like idly batter) consistency.

7. Then, add the ghee and mix well. Now, when the legiyam curls and leaves the sides of the vessel, remove from fire, add honey and mix well.

8. Allow to cool. The legiyam will solidify. Then, store in an air-tight container. This can be kept for close to a year, till next Diwali essentially!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Not so elementary

"Elementary, my dear Watson" - this phrase has almost become Sherlock Holmes' signature dialogue, but Doyle fans who have delved deep into each of his books declare, with more than 100% confidence, that this phrase is NEVER uttered by Sherlock Holmes in any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books. The dialogue that comes anywhere close to this is...

"Excellent," said I. "Elementary," he responded.

Strange how myths come to be.

Read more about this...

"Waterness" by Na Muthuswamy

My periappa (uncle) recently bought me a book called "Waterness", a translation of ten of Na Muthuswamy's short stories by Lakshmi Holmstrom. He signed the book, saying, "Dear Janani, here is a peep into a Tanjore District village very near to a place dear to our hearts. Enjoy reading what we experienced in our younger days." Very true. I really am enjoying reading this book, although not all the memories recreated in the book are pleasant (the story titled 'Death' for example).

My uncles and dad have spent many a happy vacation in Tanjore at their aunt's place, and till date they joyfully recollect the fields, the bullock and horse carts, the house, the pond, the river, the well, and so on. I've also grown up hearing stories of Tanjore from my grandfather, who was born and brought up in a village called Maavur, in the Tanjore district. Therefore, this is indeed a special book as far as I am concerned.

Na Muthuswamy is one who can lucidly conjure up images of people and places in our minds, whether through his short stories or through his plays. Through his theatre group called 'koothu-p-pattarai' he has been successful in popularising the traditional street play art of Tamilnadu, in the villages AND in the city! I have been lucky enough to see one or two of his wonderful albeit simple street plays (the themes of the plays I saw were simple because they were for an audience of school students).

Lakshmi Holmstrom, not surprisingly, has done an amazing translation. Here is the blurb of the book for those of you who are interested...

"Playwright, director, founder member of the theatre group Koothu-p-pattarai, short story writer and essayist, Na Muthuswamy fulfils each role he undertakes. Waterness brings you ten of his most unforgettable and beautifully crafted stories, in excellent translations in Lakshmi Holmstrom. Stories which recreate in fine detail the richness of life in the village of Punjai in the heart of Thanjavur district, seen from the perspective of modern urban life and its alienating pressures. Stories of a lifestyle that no longer exists, told realistically without romanticizing or idealizing, using fantasy and surrealism. Stories built around memories, about memory, the mythologizing of memory, and paralleling memory and dream."

Ta ta, then! I'm going back to reading the book.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Navarathri Bommai Golu

It’s time for Navarathri or Dusshera, one of our country’s most versatile festivals. It means different things to different people and is celebrated in various ways across the nation. Navarathri poses an assortment of attractions in different states: Dhandiya Raas, Durga Puja, Ram Leela, Bommai Golu, the list is endless.

In Tamilnadu and other South Indian states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, golu is one of the main aspects of Navarathri. Golu is a display of dolls of Gods and Goddesses, celestial beings, martyrs, saints, mortals, animals, reptiles, and other such dolls arranged on steps that are set up using wooden or metal planks.

There are a lot of theories behind this customary practice, some legendary and some homespun. Some say it is an invocation of the Gods into our homes, some say it is a way of reminding us of the hierarchy in life from the teeny-weeny insects to the omnipresent Gods, others say it is merely a social event that encourages the artisans who make those beautiful clay dolls.

It’s also a great way to socialise because a lot of people visit your golu and you visit others’ golus. We get to meet a lot of our relatives and friends and to catch up on events. An important ritual in Navarathri is the exchanging of thamboolam (betel leaves and nuts, turmeric, bananas and coconuts and optionally gifts). Everyday ladies and young girls are invited to see the golu and to sing, and then they are honoured with kumkum and sandal paste and given thamboolam. Till the previous generation, it was common for young children to dress up as mythological and legendary characters while visiting the golus.

On each day of the Navarathri festival, ‘sundal’ or spiced pulses, lentils and legumes (a different variety on each day) are offered to the Gods and Goddesses as neividhyam and then to the guests as prasadam. These sundals are as much a part of Navarathri as the golu itself. In fact, when we were children we used to guess and bet about which sundal would be served at each house we visited!

Again, it is difficult to arrive at a consensus about the reason or significance of offering sundal during Navarathri. One theory believes it’s purely for the nutritional value, that during the dull days of September-October, when the weather’s really not too peppy, people get easily tired and that the wise saints therefore prescribed that protein- and vitamin- rich sundals be served during Navarathri to rejuvenate people.

Another theory states that sundal is offered to appease the nava-grahaas or nine planets (some attribute the practice to the nava-shakthis). According to this theory, traditionally they cooked and offered only the nava-dhaanyas or lentils associated with the nine planets, namely wheat, rice, tuvar dal, moong (green gram) dal, chana dal, white field beans, sesame seeds, horse gram and urad dal.

The moong (green gram) dal, chana dal, white field beans and horse gram dal were made into sundals, the wheat was either made into appams or sprouted and made into sundal, the urad dal was made into vadas, tuvar dal was used in kheer or payasam, rice was made into a dish called puttu and the sesame seeds were made into chikki or seasoned and mixed with rice.

As people became busier they lost the patience to make sprouts from wheat. They also lost the taste for substances like horse gram etc. Keeping up with tradition, people still make puttu (usually on the Friday that falls during Navarathri), sesame chikki (on Saturday), kheer, vada, appam etc, but the sundal repertoire is no longer restricted to the pulses/ lentils/ legumes in the nava-dhaanyas. To cater to the tastes of the current generation, sundals are now made with channa, peas, rajma and such a variety of ingredients.

One practice that everybody still follows is the making of black channa sundal on Saraswathi Puja day (9th day of Navarathri), as it is known to be very special for the Goddess. (The practice of offering Puri, halwa and black channa to the Goddess is followed in North India too.)

What matters ultimately is that of all the dishes that are made from the nava-dhaanyas during Navarathri, it’s the sundal that has become so popular and inseparably associated with the festival. Good for us, because sundal is extremely healthy, being so rich in proteins and vitamins. Now, we don’t need to wait for Navarathri to make sundal, but it somehow just gels with the occasion.

To me, Navarathri combines all these eclectic features and presents a four-fold joy: puja, golu, social gatherings and sundal!

(Excerpted from an article I wrote for Tarla Dalal's Cooking & More's Sept-Oct 2005 issue.)

Sunday, September 03, 2006

"I have a rendezvous with death" by Alan Seeger

"I have a rendezvous with death" is one of the most beautiful poems I remember out of the English readers we followed in school. When a friend forwarded this poem to me recently, I spent a few joyous moments reading it and recapturing the interpretations our teacher gave when we learnt it in school. A sad poem, no doubt, but such beautiful writing, so vivid in imagery, always delights me and puts me in a joyous mood!

Here you go... a classic piece of writing from Alan Seeger's repertoire...

"I Have a Rendezvous with Death"

I HAVE a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dom Moraes

I enjoyed the recent long weekend with a book of Dom Moraes' Collected Poems in my hand. For those who haven't heard about Dom Moraes, here's the Wikipedia link... :-)

I discovered Dom Moraes recently, when my uncle gifted me a collection of his poems. I am enjoying his poems so much that I thought I'll share the joy with you all! Do check out some of Moraes' poems whenever you can.

Here is an excerpt from 'Serendip':

From ships beached on stone,
Bleached exiles, faces etched
By firewind, fetched their lives.
Language formed on the lip.
They settled, they bred,
Watched by the eyes of the forest,
Shy behind helinathus.
They evolved codes of conduct.
With the wheel and the tool
They composed a culture:
Symbols scratched on stone
Hewn to build temples.
Thing, place, creature,
Named, therefore known.

Lovely. I loved this verse, like most others in the collection of Dom Moraes' poems published by Penguin. Hope you manage to lay your hands on a collection of his poems sometime.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Happy Independence Day!

What an irony... on Independence Day, I photographed flowers that have been plucked out of the plants and bound into a bouquet! But they are beautiful nonetheless and I could not help clicking them :-)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Missing Link: Adi Sankara and Copyright

A week ago, an anonymous reader wrote to me objecting to my post on Adi Sankara. He/she thought that what I had written about Adi Sankara being upset with practices like Nara Bali (offering humans to God) which were carried out in the name of Hinduism, was not true and that I had based my work on some essays published in the 1960s and 70s, which propogated such falsehood. He/she also added that I'd be in major soup if only copyright had been popular in the 60s and 70s and these essays had been copyrighted.

First, some clarifications to the reader (hope he/she is reading this):

a) Copyright was very well prevalent and even popular during the 60s and 70s, and certainly the many books I've read about Adi Sankara were all protected by copyright.

b) Sorry to disappoint you, but you cannot find any copyright violation in my piece because I have presented the gist of over 2000 pages of literature (essays as well as translations of lectures) that I've read about Adi Sankara, in around 200 words. That cannot be copyright violation.

c) You had problems with my mentioning Nara Bali. Agreed, I have no way of confirming this, for I tell you truthfully, I have no memories of my past lives, so I would not know how it was when Adi Sankara lived. I can only grow my knowledge from the works of experts who've written about the Bhagavatpada. Indeed, it is a pity that none of Adi Sankara's contemporaries recorded his life. Accounts of Adi Sankara are mostly based on random recordings and hearsay, and many pieces of writing on Sankara Vijayams written by Sankara's successors. Coming back to Nara Bali, I have read in numerous books about Adi Sankara's encounter with the Kapalikas who wanted to offer him to God! Now, that seems like Nara Bali to me! But since you've raised the doubt and I am unable to confirm it, I have altered it to just Bali (which could mean just sacrifice of animals!)

That said, let me move on to the second part of my post... on copyright. Copyright is a person's right over expression of an idea, not on the idea itself. For example, if you take the instance of writing about Adi Sankara, I did not live during his times. So, anything I write will obviously be based on what I hear from people or read in books. Now, that is certainly not copyright violation unless I copy verbatim, and trust me, I am too proud to do that :-) So, the concept of copyright is more closely tied to expression and not to an idea, else nobody can write historical essays!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

It's party time, folks!

Bugs Bunny is a favourite with not just children but elders too. In fact, Bugs has served as a mascot to keep up the morale of the American society during hard times. Honestly, tell me how many of you have an image of Bugs Bunny as the background on your computer’s desktop? I do, so here’s our friend’s story…

A small child once said to me: “You don’t draw Bugs Bunny; you draw pictures of Bugs Bunny.” That’s a very profound observation because it means he thinks that the characters are alive, which as far as I am concerned is true. And, I feel the same way about animation… Animation isn’t an illusion of life. It is life.”

-Chuck Jones

“Eh! What’s up, Doc?” Hot News! Preparations are on at The Burrow for Bugs Bunny’s birthday bash on July 27th. Originally, Bugs Bunny was introduced by director Ben “Bugs” Hardaway as a daft rival for Porky Pig in Warner Bros.’ cartoon, “Porky’s Hare Hunt” in 1938. In 1940, he was moulded into a protagonist in his own right and debuted in the Academy Award nominated, “A Wild Hare” by Tex Avery. Mel Blanc created his voice and Herman Cohen conjured up his signature statement, “What’s up Doc?”

Since then, there’s been no looking back for Bugs. He’s had a longer career than most movie artists and still continues to steal the hearts of youngsters and elders alike, with his wit, ingenuity and sheer spirit with which he takes on his antagonists. He’s been called everything from a silly cartoon, a classic character, an American institution and national hero, wascally wabbit and long-eared galoot, to simply Bugs. He’s been in almost all forms of films, be it movies, cartoon strips, prime-time television shows or advertising features. He’s been nominated for at least three Academy awards. Bugs received an Oscar nomination for “Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt” in 1942 and won the award for “Knighty-Knight Bugs” in 1958. Friz Freleng directed both.

Bugs has always been enjoyable because he is the perfect alchemy of a hero and comedian in one. He always wins… he makes mincemeat of his rivals, but not in a Batman or Superman kind of way. He’s different. He’s a smart aleck. There’s something about the way Bugs wins. There’s this generous sprinkling of speed and comedy. Mel Blanc, who dubbed for Bugs, once remarked “Bugs Bunny appeals to the rebel in all of us. Everybody loves a winner and Bugs Bunny always wins”.

Though Bugs is not yet history, his history is quite a disputed one. First arose the evergreen debate about his creator – was it Hardaway or was it Avery? The name however suggests a dedication to Ben “Bugs” Hardaway. Next came the question of whether he was cute or macho. I do not blame them for wondering… a rabbit is usually a cute and cuddly creature, but a rabbit that makes droll statements at gunpoint? When Rose Horsely, a famous publicist remarked that the name ‘Bugs Bunny’ was very cute, Tex Avery is known to have flown off the handle. “That’s sissy,” he said, “Mine’s a Rabbit! A tall, lanky, mean rabbit. He isn’t a fuzzy little bunny.” Nevertheless, the name stuck since the first time he was addressed as ‘Bugs Bunny’ onscreen, in Elmer’s “Pet Rabbit” directed by Chuck Jones in 1941.

The carrot-chomping hero, who has starred in many all-time favourites, directed by luminaries such as Tex Avery, Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng has undergone many changes in his appearance since his debut. By 1942, he had grown out of his baby-phase and evolved into the Classic Bugs Bunny, so popular today. Directors realised that Bugs was not just another cartoon but a complex character, with an identity to be looked up to.

For many, Bugs stood for more than a cool hero. He radiated the spirit of victory and the belief that the World War II could be won. It was during those war years that Bugs Bunny raced Disney and MGM for the first time to top the popularity charts. Whatever the reason, people just love to watch the cool rabbit casually rise from his hole, chewing on a carrot, gaping down the barrel of a gun and flippantly saying “Eh! What’s up Doc?” through the corner of his mouth. But he does work some magic that appeals to people of all ages; it’s not easy to stay on the top for close to 70 years from the days of “A Wild Hare” to “Space Jam” and later. There seems to be no end in sight for his stardom.

And I bet… that’s not all, folks!

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Shanmatham: Bharathanatya Arangetram by Purnima Balasubramanian

Shanmatham, refers to the worship of the six principal deities of the Hindu pantheon. Read more about Shanmatham.

My sister, Purnima (a disciple of Smt. Lakshmi Ramaswamy), will be presenting "Shanmatham", a thematic dance performance, at 6:00 p.m. on 19th August 2006, at Sivagami Pethachi Auditorium (MCTM School), Alwarpet, Chennai.

All are welcome!

Adi Sankara: Shanmatha Prathisthapaka

We all know Adi Sankara as the Advaita Sthapaka - the one who established Advaita, the concept of non-duality, which propounds that we can recognise our oneness with the Universal Spirit by adopting the Gyana Marga or path of inquiry and knowledge. The broad-minded Adi Sankara also realised that common people cannot associate themselves as easily with such a deep philosophy as with wordly practices and emotions. Therefore, he also recommended Bhakti as a means of conditioning one's mind and focusing on one's personal God.

This was at a time when Hinduism as a way of life was floundering and losing its erstwhile undipusted following, due to the rapid advance of non-Vedic religions like Buddhism and Jainism in India. But what Adi Sankara found more objectionable were the inappropriate forms of worship adopted by people who "claimed" to be Hindus. Several communities in India like the Kapalikas, Vaishnavas and the Shakti cult, were forgetting the core Vedic principles and focusing more on irrelevant and irreverent forms of worship such as bali (sacrifice of living beings), branding of religious symbols on the bodies of devotees, and so on. What was shocking was that these were all being done in the name of Hinduism, which is in fact a way of life founded on the principle of non-violence.

Therefore Adi Sankara realised that it was time to identify the core cults in Hinduism and align their ways of worship with the Vedic principles, so that even those who were not enlightened enough to realise the principles of Advaita would at least be expressing their Bhakti in peaceful and commendable ways rather than adopt violent methods.

Sankara, at this time, identified that the major cults could be identified in line with six principal deities of the Hindu pantheon - Ganapathyam (the worship of Lord Ganesha), Kaumaram (the worship of Lord Kumara or Karthikeya), Sauram (the worship of the Sun God - nature worship), Shaktham (the worship of Goddess Shakthi), Shaivam (the worship of Lord Shiva), and Vaishnavam (the worship of Lord Vishnu). These six major streams of Hindu worship are referred to as Shanmatham. Adi Sankara found that these had lost their sheen because they had moved away from the Vedic path and adopted crude ways of worship. He therefore took it upon himself to re-establish these faiths to their former glory.

He achieved this by travelling widely all over the country, debating with the heads of each of these cults, accepting their beliefs while at the same time aligning their thoughts with the ancient Vedic treatises and streamlining the expression of their Bhakti in the form of elegant modes of worship. Not only were the heads of these cults convinced by Sankara's arguments, they also ended up as his disciples. In the words of Goldsmith, "Those who came to scoff remained to pray." These disciples of Adi Sankara also traversed the nooks and corner of our country to re-establish the peaceful ways of worship advocated by Hinduism. It is believed that Adi Sankara decided to liberate his spirit from his body only after all these devotees returned and reported to him that Shanmatha had be re-established to its former glory.

In honour of the mammoth task achieved by him, Sankara is known as Shanmatha Prathisthapaka.

My sister's dance teacher lent me a book called "Sankara and Shanmatha", a souvenir published during a conference on the subject in 1969. One line in the book, about a particular teaching of Adi Sankara's was very inspiring: While Shivam (peace) is the Supreme Brahman whose realisation is open to all, Lord Shiva, is only one of It's many manifestations. Nothing can explain Advaita better.

The advent of Adi Sankara

A millennium and more has passed since the advent of Adi Sankara, but his teachings are valued and practiced even today. If it were not for him, it is difficult to say whether the way of life called Hinduism would even exist now.

The advent of Sankara Bhagavatpada, considered an avatara of Lord Shiva, was very timely. At a certain point of time in this Kaliyuga, people were very confused about which way of life should be followed Bhakthi Marga, Karma Marga or Gnana Marga. At this juncture, Adi Sankara manifested to assert that all three are important and play an important role as the three legs of the tripod that is Hinduism.

Adi Sankara rejuvenated Hinduism and the Vedic concepts. He emphasised the importance of rituals (Karma), devotion (Bhakthi) and philosophy (Gnana), making it very clear that all three were important for a complete life.

First, he highlighted the importance of rituals with faith and obedience to injunctions. Rituals cleanse our mind and give us a certain infrastructure or framework on which to base our lives. If we think for a moment, we will admit that it is very difficult to live a life without rules.

Second he stressed the importance of Bhakthi to God and the role of mythology in instilling that Bhakthi. Bhakthi on a personal God as found in mythology enables us to concentrate on God who is omnipresent and within ourselves. Sri Sankara was a “grand social idealist” as stated by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan. He did not emphasise the superiority of any one God. He wrote stotras glorifying all the Gods, thereby bringing about a sense of unity even in diversity. He advocated Bhakthi as a means of taking individuals closer to their own personal Gods, of their own choice.

Third, and most important, he promoted the philosophical concepts enshrined in our Vedas and Upanishads. Advaita, the highest philosophical work of Adi Sankara explains the dual aspect of the highest, called Brahman. The Advaita philosophy alone, according to Sankara, could do justice to the truth of the many conflicting doctrines, and so he wrote all his works with the intention of helping the individual to realise and identify his soul with Brahman, which is the means of liberation from samsara.

Philosophy enables a man to have a comprehensive view of the whole Trio viz. God, Creation of the World and all matter, and finally the Atman, which ignites everything from the highest Creator to the lowest vegetation.

Adi Sankara also enumerated the qualities of a real philosopher. He explained that a real philosopher is one whose mind is composite, one who is able to empathise with all created beings, at all times. He always finds peace within himself, and in all circumstances. And, he moves in the World unaffected by any happenings just as churned butter floats in buttermilk.

Whether or not Adi Sankara was a manifestation of Lord Shiva, we do not know, but he was an extremely divine and commendable person nevertheless. He achieved what requires superhuman strength and conviction. He wrote works on the Mantra Sastra, stotras on all the Gods and Goddesses, and commentaries of all the philosophical treatises (Upanishads). In short he re-affirmed faith in Hinduism and brought it back to glory at a crucial period when it was floundering.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

On cleaning my room, and why I no longer hoard software CDs

I was just cleaning my shelves today, and was surprised at myself. Over the years I had collected hundreds of CDs distributed with magazines. In fact, I remember we used to subscribe to many of the magazines just for the CDs which came with them. It was almost impossible to acquire software otherwise.

The magazine CDs would usually bundle only trial versions of software, and I'd do all kinds of monkey business to make it run. I would keep looking at the date of expiry of the trial version and meticulously reset my computer's date to an earlier one so that the software would continue running. (Of course, software developers got much smarter later, and started using counters for calculating the number of days for which the software was used!)

Today, I just collected all these CDs and gave them away, without any compunctions (of course I kept a few of the really old CDs as keepsakes!). Two reasons:

a) With the advent of broadband (and since very recently we have an unlimited download subscription at home) we no longer need to rely on these CDs for software. I simply download any tools that I need. It's fast and cost-effective.

b) I no longer use freeware or trialware. I find free and open source tools for almost all my computing needs. I no longer need a "trial" version of Photoshop when I have GIMP. I no longer need trial versions of music editors when I have Audacity. So, I no longer need to rely on the magazine CDs for freeware and trialware. Thank God!

CDs apart, phew, my room looks much neater now! It is easy to collect stuff, but very tough to discard them later. Yet, I somehow managed to clean my room a little. Decided to donate some of my computer science books which I don't use anymore, and that was quite a load off my shelves. Of course, at the end of the exercise, I just did not have the heart to discard any of the old Reader's Digests. So, they continue to adorn my bookshelves, like so many other things I did not have the heart to throw away ;-)

Sunday, July 02, 2006

How I wish to go back to school!

Am I glad June is gone and July is here. June gives me "school blues". No, I am not of school-going age, obviously... which is why I get the blues every June morning, when I see students in crisp new uniforms and a bagful of notebooks and books walk or cycle to school. More than half a decade has gone by since I finished school, and yet I sigh everytime I see a school kid pass by. Why can't I go back to school, I wonder! Of course, college was equally enjoyable. But, I am sure adult literacy classes won't be so!

Hmmm... those were the best days of my life. The other day when I accompanied my sister for her admission interview, at my alma mater, I was so tempted to buy an application form for myself. Honestly. Perhaps I really ought to give up all my work, and go back to graduate school :-) Anybody wants to join me?

(Here's a pic I shot when I visited Stella Maris College, Chennai - my alma mater - with my sister last month. Look inside. Perhaps you'll find me dreamily reading a Wodehouse novel, or Kernighan and Ritchie's book on 'C' Programming!)

Friday, June 23, 2006

Veggie Au Gratin Revisited

Realised that I had not uploaded a picture with the recipe of Veggie Au Gratin. So, shot one today :) Click here for the recipe.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Romancing the skies...

Where did journalists meet decades ago?

The other day we had gone to attend the debut music concert of a cousin and my maternal grandpa asked one of his old cousins, a veteran journalist, about whether there was some kind of press club where journalists of his generation met when they were in their prime. Not a second elapsed before the answer shot back, "Oh! They used to meet wherever drinks were available at below the market rate!"

I swear, I am still a teetotaller ;-)

Wodehouse vocabulary

You know what, like there are dictionaries for Medieval English, Modern English, and what not, I think there should be a dictionary of amusing words and phrases used by Wodehouse in his writings (for all I know somebody might already have compiled such a dictionary!)

Of course, in most Wodehouse novels, the plot is hilarious as well, but then sometimes I think even if the plot were not hilarious, I'd still be rolling on the floor laughing if I had a Wodehouse in my hands! His language is absolutely amusing, extremely entertaining. I am so overcome by by emotion (the light, funny, happy kind) now, thinking of "Right Ho, Jeeves", which I was reading last night, that I really cannot go on with this post now...

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Memories of Tanjore

(Written in January 2006, this write-up has remained in my hard disk for quite long! Discovered it today while searching for some other file.)

I look around and can see many fragments of Tanjore at home even as I write this. The huge gold-raked painting of Lord Rama’s crowning ceremony, the brass idols in the puja, the colourful straw mat in the main hall, the veena in the music room, the smell of vathal kuzhambu and rasam emanating from the kitchen… tangible and intangible keepsakes from Tanjore reminding us that the district, 345 km away from Chennai, means more than its 3300 sq km area. To us, Tanjore is a concept, rich in culture and traditions; a heritage that has been handed down to us meticulously even though our family relocated to Chennai almost three generations back.

All Tanjorians, deep within their hearts, are proud of their nativity. I grew up listening to the elders at home, especially my grandfather, talk fondly of Thanjavur… the land of temples, art, culture and agriculture. Incidentally, when old-timers talk of Thanjavur, they don’t refer only to its current domain but the composite of the present day districts of Thanjavur, Nagapattinam and Thiruvarur. Every time I visit Tanjore it only rejuvenates the spark of pride which I too foster in my heart!

Last year, the district faced an onslaught of heavy rains. Yet when I visited in the end of December 2005, it was a picture of absolute beauty, like the calm after a storm. Every pond, lake, canal and river was brimful of water, and the fields were lush green and heavy with the paddy crop waiting to be harvested. It was so picturesque and fantastic that I just could not help penning this down as soon as I returned.

Words can’t do justice to the marvel that is Tanjore, but nevertheless, let me give it a try!

Multi-faceted Tanjore

The Tanjore landscape features paddy fields as far as the eye can see, swaying and dancing with the wind despite the heaviness of the grains. The earthy smell and down-to-earth beauty of the irrigation canals and the motherly river Cauvery unselfishly soothe the battered nerves of the city-dweller.

Tanjore was once the abode of great Indian kings, including the Cholas, Pandiyas, Vijayanagar Kings, Nayaks and Marathas. The kings, especially the Cholas, have left behind a legacy of huge, exquisitely sculpted temples, a rich and diverse culture, and effective man-made irrigation infrastructure such as canals, which are still functional today.

The Tanjore Big Temple (Brihadiswara temple) still stands evidence to the grandeur of the Chola rule. A World Heritage Monument, the Vimana [1] of the temple stands 60.96 m high, and it is believed that the shadow of the crest never falls on the ground! Even today people flock to the Tanjore district to visit the ancient temples, including the Navagraha temples dedicated to the nine planets.

Tanjore maintains its repute as a centre of learning, culture and craft, famous for bejewelled Tanjore paintings, fine silk-finished straw mats, bell metal castings, musical instruments, pith work and bronze sculptures. Notable as an educational landmark is Raja Serfoji’s Saraswathi Mahal Library which holds numerous ancient manuscripts.

Tanjore is a haven for classical artists. It was the birthplace of many of South India’s famous musicians and dancers, including the acclaimed Trinity of Carnatic Music and the Quartet of Bharathanatyam. Numerous art forms from music to street plays are practiced in Tanjore. The classical music festival held every January at Thiruvaiyaru, the birthplace of Saint Thyagaraja, draws thousands of music enthusiasts from all over the World. The Bhagavathar Mela held at Melattur draws similar crowds.

Tanjore is also famous for its rich cuisine, which is not unnatural considering that the region is the rice bowl of Tamilnadu. Although it is commonly said that Tanjorians will be content with vathal kuzhambu (sun-dried vegetables in tamarind-based gravy) and sutta appalam (roasted papad), in reality they are quite finicky about their food and enjoy every part of the meal. Drawing from a huge repertoire of recipes, a complete Tanjorian meal is a pretty wide spread. Of course, these days such multi-course meals are served only on festive occasions!

Coming to think of it, Tanjore is also notorious for certain things such as the sarcastic and satirical sense of humour of the natives, cruelty towards bulls (in some parts of Tanjore, they trim off the ears and horns of the bulls in the belief that it will make them rough and tough), and so on. Let’s say selective perception comes into play and reinforces only the positive points in my mind !

[1] Tower of the temple

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Nethi, Nethi...

I was lucky to have studied in a college that allowed us to also study one "general elective" (a subject offered by other academic departments), every semester. So, the fact that I was a student of the computer science department did not prevent me from taking up other subjects offered by departments like social sciences, botany, English, and Sanskrit. One such course which I did was 'Upanishads'. And I must say it was one of the most interesting courses I've ever done.

In most classes, I would not even jot down any notes, because after all, a subject like Upanishads is all about uptake and application. At the end of the six months, only those lessons that had an impact on me would remain in my memory and influence my behaviour. Other lessons would be of no use, even if they are recorded with pen and paper.

Even today, if I close my eyes and recollect, I can almost hear our soft-spoken professor explaining some of life's greatest truths... and if I (and perhaps the other students too) can remember them even today, four years later, it is probably because of the simple way in which he used to explain the concepts, choosing the best metaphors and analogies from the ancient texts.

I'd like to share some of the most profound of these lessons with you...

1) Understanding the Upanishads or Vedanta, it is believed, is all about understanding and realising our oneness with the Brahman, or Supreme Spirit. Yet, in all these ancient texts, none of the greatest saints and teachers have been able to describe this Supreme Spirit. Is he a blue coloured God or is he one with matted locks, does he wear a pitambara or is he robed in deer skin? Oh, and should we refer to the Brahman as 'He' or 'She' - perhaps 'It' or 'That' would be more appropriate? No such descriptions. And no beginning or end either. At the very least have they been able to describe the experience of realising or beholding the Supreme Spirit. Again no! The most that they have been able to do is negate what the Supreme Spirit is not. Therefore, the Upanishads are full of negations saying the Brahman is not like this or that. "Na ithi, na ithi."

2) Advaita explains a concept known as "Rajju Sarpa Braanthihi" - A person who sees a rope in the darkness quickly mistakes it to be a snake. That's an illusion created by darkness. Similarly, lack of knowledge makes us believe the World, this life, our emotions, everything to be real, while all these are but the play of "Maya". When enlightenment dawns, we realise, like the man who realises when the light is switched on that it is indeed a rope and not a snake, that this life is but Maya. The only true thing is the Brahman, and we are but fragments of it. "Tat twam asi" - "You are that."

3) One of the most beautiful analogies given by our teacher was this: light a lamp, cover it with a pot which has many holes in it, and place this setup in a dark room. You will then see spots of light all over the room. And depending on the distance of the hole from the light, the spots created by it, will be light or dark, small or big. That's how we living creatures are as well. We may be short or tall, fair or dark, fat or skinny, but ultimately the truth remains that we are all nothing but manifestations of the same Universal Spirit.

Wow! Yahoo's CEO is paid $1!!!

No, I did not forget the million after the 1! Yahoo has shrunk its CEO's annual salary from $600,000 to $1. Curious?

Check out the article in today's Economic Times...


Friday, May 26, 2006

Some interesting facts from Reader's Digest - March 2006

The March issue of Reader's Digest has been lying on my table for a long time now, and today I felt so ashamed because in the eight years of being an RD subscriber, I have never let an issue remain unread till two months later! I read it today. And am I glad I did... it was an extremely interesting issue, and I came to learn several strange things from it.

I learnt for instance that Mozart was a person who was perpetually hungry for life (er, not always in the positive sense). A self-proclaimed womanizer, he is known to have happily commented that he'd had his "amusement" with more than 200 women! He appears to have been quite a prodigal too because the article says that he'd often been seen going (with bulging pockets) to the pawnbroker, despite having a steady income from his music. Strange that such a talented musician (whose music still has the power to soothe our battered nerves in this fast era) was so restless. The article also mentions that he was thirsty for love and care since his childhood days, and would go to his parents and other acquaintances and ask if they loved him. Perhaps that was the reason for his restlessness.

I also learnt that several of the most beautiful and picturesque mountains in Europe are facing a severe population crisis - no, not a case of too many people, but too less. The photograph of the region, which was published with the article was SO phenomenally beautiful that just looking at the picture made me want to live there. But it appears that with people migrating to the cities, there are barely any takers for the Swiss Alpine landscape.

Trust RD to provide us with such amazing insights! Eight years and I have still not tired of the magazine. I don't think I ever will. Kudos, RD team! (Thought I'll say this, just in case they happen to come across my blog sometime :-))

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Some books I read recently

Here are some of the books I read in the last fortnight, in the order in which I liked them...

1) Two Lives by Vikram Seth. This is a fantastic book. I am always in awe of Vikram Seth's easy writing style... he achieves the greatest aim of any writer... makes the reader comfortable and makes her turn the pages in anticipation of more fluent, free-flowing, well-chosen words. A thriller makes one turn the pages in a different way, a classic makes the reader turn the pages in a different way. Both delight the reader. This is a classic :-)

2) Mahatma Gandhi - His Life and Times by Louis Fischer. An evergreen book.

3) Effective Communication by John Adair. Found an old, yellowing copy in my dad's shelf. What Adair has spoken about is timeless, so it did not matter that it was an old book. I enjoyed reading it.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Excellent writing tips

Here are some excellent "writing tips", or "excellent writing" tips, or whatever you want to call it, by Nimish Dubey. Really fantastic ones!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Relatively Cool Genius

The Sunday Times in New Delhi carries a regular feature called "Guru Gyaan: The lives and times of the world's most influential thinkers". Today's episode was titled, "He was a relatively cool genius" - understandably, it was about Albert Einstein. And I was positively thrilled because he is one of my favourite personalities.

His theory of relativity is one of the most influential thoughts of this era. Whether you look at is as a scientific theory or a philosophical one, it makes sense, relatively at least ;-) In simple terms, the theory states that your reality is determined by your point of view. Well, forget physics and look at it in terms of life. Really, my joys and sorrows, challenges and victories, passions and peeves, they are all mine, and others might not be able to associate or even make sense of many of them, because they can probably not look at my life through my POV! Hmm, here's one theory that requires a lot of thought. I'll let you alone with that.

Here are some cool quotes by Einstein:

It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure

Gravity can't be held responsible for falling in love.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Pyaaz Pasanda

Since consuming shallots (small onions, sambhar onions, Bombay onions, or whatever you call it) in summer is supposed to be good, I tried tweaking a traditional paneer recipe using shallots, and loved the outcome. Perhaps you'd like to try it too.

Serves 4


1 1/2 cups shallots, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and diced into large pieces
4 carrots, diced into large pieces
3 large tomatoes, quartered
4 green chillies
A 1-inch cube of ginger, peeled
4 cardamoms
4 cloves
A 1-inch long piece of cinnamon
2 teaspoons chilli powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
4 tablespoons refined oil
Salt, according to taste
Finely chopped coriander leaves, for garnishing


1. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a cooking pan, add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves, and fry for a minute.
2. Add the ginger, green chillies, cubed onions, tomatoes and carrots, and saute for 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water, close the vessel and cook on low flame for around 10 minutes, stirring once or twice in between.
3. Allow to cool, and then grind in a mixer-grinder.
4. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a kadai, and saute the shallots till golden brown in colour.
5. Add the chilli powder and fry for around 30 seconds.
6. Add the ground paste and required salt, and continue cooking on low flame for around 10 minutes till the fragrance creeps into your nostrils and excites your gastronomic juices!
7. Add the garam masala, simmer and cook for a minute.
8. Remove from fire, garnish with finely chopped coriander leaves, and serve hot with puri. For a North-meets-South combo, serve with aappam!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Height of Discrimination!

On my first trip to Jaipur, I visited all the usual touristy locations, one of them being the Jaigarh Fort. It's an amazing place and I was astounded by the artistic and functional architecture. One of the sites of interest inside the fort is a temple of Ma Kali, which houses an idol brought and installed by one of the rulers after a conquest in Bengal.

The idol depicts a fiery goddess; otherwise it looked like a normal temple to me, and I went in for a darshan. As usual, I completed my chants and namaskar and waited in line to accept the arati, kumkum and thirtha (holy water). I was given the first two, but when I extended my hand to accept the thirtha, the priest gave me a nasty look and pushed my hand away with such vehemance, that I turned around and walked away in a miff, without giving him a second glance. What kind of discrimination was this... my brother received the thirtha, so did all the men in the temple, but none of the womenfolk!

It was when I was waiting at the door (with an annoyed expression on my face) for my brother to come out, that I noticed what the devotees were offering to Ma Kali... a box of sweets and a bottle of liquor! So that was what was in the priest's copper cup, and that was what the men were receiving as thirtha. No wonder the tourist guides kept going back for second and third helpings of the holy water.

That explains the priest's action, but two years later, I am still annoyed with the discrimination. If men can taste the holy liquor (!) why not women? Being a teetotaller, that would have been my first real taste of alcohol, and this punditji had to spoil it ;-)

Heard of Creativedot?

There is this amazing online community called Creativedot that I joined a few weeks back, and it's really great to see how many people are prepared to share their creative work in an "open" way, under the creativecommons or copyleft licenses.

We post photographs, poems, recipes, and what not, which anybody is free to use as long as the user credits the original author of the work. And there are several collaborative book authoring efforts also going on. In fact, we have just started authoring a cook book called CookingDot!

As explained in the Creativedot site, ", also referred to creativedot, is a momentary, delicate experiment, that explores whether creatively-inclined people in India are willing to share their creative artworks such as photography, calligraphy, illustrations, graphics, designs, sounds, music, video clips, and more, under a creativecommons or copyleft license.

This initiative owes its gratitude and thanks to the free-spirited linux-delhi community, and to Sarai. A note of appreciation also for members publishing their photographs and artwork under the licenses on this site. Spread the word. The digital dandi march is happening."

It's really interesting, and I am enjoying myself there. I thought I'll spread the word, so more people can enjoy Creativedot. It's not about any tangible benefits, it's about enjoying the journey. If you are inclined to, do check it out sometime. Connect to:

Sunday, May 07, 2006

A sculpture that sculpts itself

I just returned after spending a few hours at the Akshardham Cultural Centre, New Delhi. While the whole centre in general, including the temple and the audio-visual presentations, is very inspiring, one particular presentation in specific affected me very deeply.

This was an exhibit depicting a sculpture sculpting itself! It took five years for seven thousand artisans to build Akshardham, but how many artisans are needed to sculpt one's destiny, questions the presenter. One. Just one. We humans are sculptors sculpting ourselves. Only I can shape my destiny and only you can shape yours.

How true! So, let us pay more attention to how we sculpt ourselves and make a good job of it :)

Friday, May 05, 2006

one night @ the call center

One more good book from Chetan Bhagat! I really enjoyed reading one night @ the call center... in fact, I finished the book in one day but kept thinking about it for five days :)

The book is about six friends working at a call center. Over time their lives have all become problematic and unruly, and secretly each of them is fighting to overcome personal losses and emotional strains. Their greatest problem being Bakshi, their unmanageable manager!

One day, in a strange situation, they receive a strange telephone call from... God. Does God solve their problems for them? That's the best part of the book. Happy reading :)

By the way, my favourite character was Vroom!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

When time stands still

Have you noticed that there are some times in life, when time seems to stand still, or even better, it seems to rewind and you are transported to a different, significantly slower and more enjoyable frame of time? I realise that every year when I go to the Chariot Festival at Mylapore's Kalapaleeswarar Temple, one of the oldest temples in Chennai. This year too, as usual, I put my cell phone off, left my camera at home and set off to see the chariot being pulled by hundreds of devotees. It is amazing how that part of the city seemed to have moved back several decades to a time when people still had time to participate and enjoy social events.

Somehow, during the Tamil month of Panguni (mid-March to mid-April), Mylapore seems to move back in time. The lives of all the people in the neighbourhood revolve around the Chariot Festival and associated events, and these become the favourite topic of discussion for young and old alike; there are peddlers selling all kind of wares (especially notable are the tribespeople who come to the city to sell beads of every imaginable colour), thermacol toys, bows and arrows, hand fans, glass bangles, the streets fill up with vendors of every imaginable kind; bright lights and auspicious colours greet the eye; merry-go-rounds and giant wheels are set up; the fragrance of flowers stimulates the nostrils even as the smell of sweet pongal, curd rice and other freshly prepared food (for distribution to devotees) tingles the taste buds; and the air resonates with the happy squeals of delighted children, the spiritual sounds of mantras being recited, and the holy name of God voiced by the many devotees.

It is moments like this that reaffirm my faith in humanity. Society is not as decadent as it seems. There are people who still enjoy these simple pleasures in life, people who are not really racing blindly to overtake time, people who are still inclined to keep up the rich traditions and culture of our nation, and people who are motivated to spend time with their family and to introduce their children to the same pleasures which they enjoyed in their own childhood.

Moments like these make me wonder if Time, the old gypsy man, indeed put up his caravan and decided to stay for some time, before rushing off again.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Do you use glass paint only for glass painting?

Well, I discovered sometime back that glass paint looks good on almost any surface. Just remember to test how well the paint spreads on the surface and all that. Most importantly, check to see if the lead paint or glass liner that you use for the border binds well.

A few months back I tried painting on a bamboo plate with glass paint. I loved the effect. Today I tried making a few greeting cards (all in an hour's work) using chart paper, glass liner and glass paint. Again I liked it. I love the glossy, glassy, shiny finish that glass paint gives.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Kadalai paruppu kosmalli - a sweet salad

This is a sweet salad made with Bengal gram (chana) dal and grated coconut. A complete traditional Tamil Brahmin meal will definitely include this.

Preparation Time – ½ hr. Cooking Time – 15 min. Serves 4.


1 cup Bengal gram (channa) dal - soaked in water for around 20 minutes
1 cup grated coconut
¾ or 1 cup sugar
1 tsp cardamom powder


  1. Cook the channa dal such that they are separate and not overcooked. Drain excess water and allow to cool.
  2. Once the channa dal is cooled, mix all the ingredients and serve immediately, otherwise it will become watery.
Note: The amount of sugar and coconut in this recipe can be varied according to taste.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Zap your problems, and zip to success with ZeNLP

Is it possible for one to achieve personal and professional milestones by reciting mantras; meditating; planting, watering and watching a tree grow; maintaining a strict vegan diet; auto-suggestion; and creative visualisation? Yes, it is, says Murli Menon in his book “ZeNLP: The Power to Succeed”.

While returning from a New Year party in 1995, Murli Menon was hit by a truck, resulting in severe brain haemorrhage, paralysing the left side of his body. While even doctors could not predict his return to normalcy, Menon was confident that he could win over his bodily ailments with mind power, through combined practice of Zen meditation and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP).

He recovered full use of both his limbs in June 1995, and has since then helped many such disabled people to return to normalcy. Through his Ahmedabad-based firm phenoMenon Consultants Inc., he has been conducting numerous workshops on goal setting and achievement, stress management, team-building and motivation, based on his theory of ZeNLP, which combines the principles of NLP and Zen meditation.

The human body is comprised of cells. Cells contain molecules of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen etc. These molecules in turn break up into atoms; atoms into electrons, protons and neutrons; and neutrons into neutrinos, till we reach the tiniest particles called quarks, which are nothing but quantum energy. The human body then is nothing by a bundle of energy or cosmic consciousness, the author explains. And the exploration of this energy within us and others is possible through ZeNLP and its various methods such as planting of trees and observing nature, meditation, adoption of a vegan diet, reinforcing a positive thought by constantly repeating it to ourselves, recitation of mantras, and so on.

These methods helps us to discover and harness the infinite power of the mind, to understand our position in the divine plan, and to get in touch with ourselves, thereby making it possible to improve conceptual understanding, memory power and concentration, intuitive ability and strategising skills, and more.

The book is well-written, with a generous sprinkling of Zen parables or metaphors. The author is right in believing that a person will understand and register a message better when it is delivered through a story, instead of as a sermon. The few dozen stories in the book themselves make the book worth its price.

The flip side is that the author’s presentation of thoughts seems disconnected. Although each individual idea is presented well, it is quite difficult for us to weave the various chapters into a cohesive whole. Another deterrent is that ZeNLP, quite understandably, needs to be practised for a reasonable period of time (sometimes a matter of years), before it yields results. Therefore, it is not possible for me to test it before publishing this review. Yet, judging by the success stories mentioned in the book, it seems to be worth trying. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.