Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Jungle Bells and Hoppy Christmas


It’s that time of the year again, the later half of December. Across most of India, the weather’s rather pleasant – even Bombay is reasonably tolerable as against being oppressively hot. In many of our work places, “Head Offices”, variously located across Europe and North America have come to a grinding halt – practically every second or third email pings back with an OOO auto-reply. Many here too have plans of long weekend getaways secured by appending a couple of days off from work to the Christmas weekend.

English movie cable television channels are awash with red and white ‘ho ho hos’, and as if to replicate said TV channels, 5 Star Hotels and Malls across the city sport illumination of the “Christmas lights” variety, have in their lobbies grotesque artificial fir trees festooned with baubles, often smattered with fluffed up cotton wool in an attempt to give it the appearance of snow.

Hmmm, nice. But why though? Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Christmas. I wouldn’t touch those foaming at the mouth, Happy-Holidays-NOT-Merry-Christmas-opinionated, Letter-to-a-Christian-Nation thumping, rabidly evangelical atheists with a barge pole. But I cannot help wonder, who are all those hotels and malls pitching Christmas at? Do Christians in India throng to hotels and malls every December instead of celebrating with their families in the traditional way? And even if they do, is the Christian population of the country, at a little over 2%, a sizeable enough market to attract which all these hotels and malls deck themselves up so? Or are they angling for foreigners – tourists from Europe and North America who want to expend their holidays in ‘Incredible India’? May be they are – but I have not really noticed a visible increase in the number of foreign tourists at these hotels and malls around Christmas. And even if we assume that there indeed is a surge in the number of European and North American tourists around this time, do they really want to see fake Christmas trees and snow standing awkwardly in the midst of throngs of guests and shoppers milling around minding their own business? (On a very recent occasion when we were out for dinner, HRH was the only person in the otherwise busy hotel lobby who was paying any attention to the Christmas decorations.)

That Diwali is celebrated with great zeal – hotels, malls, shops and bazaars, all getting into celebratory frenzies – should come as no surprise. Other religious minorities in the country – Muslims, Sikhs, and even Buddhists are probably far more numerous than Christians; and as aggregates are a bigger target market – and yet we don’t see hotels, malls and shops decorated for Eid, Nanak Jayanti or Buddha Pournima! Even such minority groups as the Jains and Parsis, who can pack a financial punch way above their numbers, do not seem to have the privilege of having their main holiday celebrated by the temples of consumerism. That honour is reserved only for Christmas.

And that is precisely why these Christmas decorations irk me so – they have nothing to do with religion, they are far far removed from the Gandhian secular ideal of sarv-dharm-samabhav. I suspect they are hooked to Christmas because of its “life-style” associations. I fear that Christmas, by now, is intricately meshed with the Global Cosmopolitan Consumerist milieu, which wannabes across the developing world aspire for with acute longing. And I don’t think this near blind longing is a good thing for the developing world, I don’t think it is a good thing for Christmas either to be reduced and trivialised as a symbol of western consumerism.

And for this reason, I don’t quite like that Christmas tree, standing in that hotel lobby.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Jamboo-phalani, जम्बूफलानि


जम्बूफलानि पक्वानि
पतंति विमले जले
तानि मत्स्या न खादंति
जालगोलक शंकया!

3 poor brahmins from a village outside Ujjaini were on the way to the court of Emperor Vikramaditya seeking alms. On the way they passed by a picturesque stretch along the river bank where a tall Jāmbool tree stood laden with ripe fruit. They refreshed themselves with sweet fruit and cool water and sat down to rest in the shade of the large tree. Some fruit laden branches of the tree stretched over the water and from time to time, ripe fruit would fall into the clear water. They watched for a while and noticed that every time a jāmbool would fall in the water, several river fish would swim closer to the fruit and then dart away without eating!
Intrigued, the 3 brahmins described the peculiar occurrence –

जम्बूफलानि पक्वानि - ripened jāmbool fruit,
पतंति विमले जले - fall into the clear waters,
तानि मत्स्या न खादंति - them (the fruit), fish wouldn't eat,
जलमध्ये डुबुग डुबुग || ー'plonk', 'plonk', (they sounded) in the water!

They knew not why the fish never ate the delicious fruit. Puzzled they, went on with their journey to Ujjaini. As they queued up outside the Imperial shrine for alms from the Emperor, they noticed a court official talking to each alms seeker and handing them a coin. When the 3 brahmins approached the official he asked them what they sought. Ashamed to say they were seeking alms, the three said they had a verse to recite to the Emperor.
The official asked them to recite the verse, and the three recited:

जम्बूफलानि पक्वानि
पतंति विमले जले
तानि मत्स्या न खादंति
जलमध्ये डुबुग डुबुग ||

"Very nice, but the last phrase sounds crude!" said the official, "can't you refine it before you recite it for Emperor"? Looking sheepish, the 3 brahmins told the official what they saw by the river bank and how they did not know why the fish never ate the fruit. "Alright", said the official, "when you go to the Emperor, recite these 3 lines and at the end add this phrase - जालगोलक शंकया!

The 3 brahmins did as they were told. On hearing the verse, the Emperor smiled. He gave the brahmins a gold coin each as a gift and said, "O learned ones, the verse you just recited is very nice, but there is something different about the last line. Tell me did you really compose the complete verse?"

The 3 brahmins were again abashed, "O Mighty One, that court official over there, he changed the last phrase of our verse!" they said. The Emperor laughed and beckoned official who approached smiling. "Few can finesse a verse the way you can Kālidāsa!", said the Emperor.

जालगोलक शंकया! - (because they) suspected (the fruit) to be the round-weights of a net!

The tale, most probably is apocryphal; but by attributing the above lines to none other than Kālidāsa, (Sanskrit composer - known for such great works as Meghadootam, Shākuntala, and Kumāra Sambhava), they become difficult to forget!!

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Thursday, October 29, 2009



India Shining”, they said. “Resurgent India”, one which is decoupled and which grows at 5%+ when the even rich-world is in recession! And we gloat unashamedly about our very talented super-achieving Diaspora! The princely NRIs and PIOs.

No matter how much we achieve though, at the core we are a nation of filthy littering pigs! Most public places, but especially well known tourist destinations – the ones that are on everyone’s ‘sight-seeing’ list will sport the following strewn about:

  1. Plastic bags
  2. Empty Soft drink bottles
  3. Empty packets of chips, biscuits and such-like sundry eatables
  4. Paper napkins (otherwise called ‘tissue paper’)
  5. Cigarette butts / empty packets of cigarettes
  6. Peanut shells / Banana skins / Apple Cores
  7. Stubs of maize with the grain eaten away (bhutta, as it is called in Hindi)
  8. Red stains of chewed paan spitted about
  9. Remnants of picnic meals – paper plates, plastic spoons, paper cups etc
  10. Bits of sodden newspapers
  11. Graffiti saying “Arun loves Meena” and similar stuff
  12. And other such miscellaneous garbage

It is shocking, infuriating and it is observed unfailing across the country. It makes me want to throttle someone. India is a beautiful country with bountiful natural beauty and a heritage to take pride in that has endowed us with rich and dazzling monuments. But we, the people of India, seem utterly incapable of nurturing this inheritance and preserving it for prosperity with its pristine beauty intact. As ‘tourists’ it seems to be out national obsession to go to such places, make a lot of noise, eat a lot of junk and pile up mountains of litter.

I sometimes feel only draconian laws brutally enforced by a right minded police state may knock some sense into us – if not, it would at least keep our tourist destinations clean! I would love for all these places to have a bunch of tough and incorruptible cops provided with whips and the mandate to land lashes on the unworthy rump of anyone who litters!!


Monday, September 21, 2009

Jugalbandi (जुगलबन्दी)


The jugalbandi is a very special form of recital where two maestros get together to present a performance. Many tend to misinterpret the jugalbandi as a competitive format where the maestros try to outdo each other in displaying their proficiency. Well, petty apprentices may play such games – most maestros are beyond them.

Most  jugalbandis I have listened to have tended to be dazzling virtuous cycles – may be I should say virtuoso cycles – of outstanding creativity, with each maestro inspiring the other to ever greater heights.

The memorable ‘jugalbandis’ between Pandit Ravi Shankar and Yehidi Menuhin, immortalised in the album West Meets East took the world of music by storm by their superb inter-traditional melding.

Below sample jugalbandi with Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib on the sitar, with Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussein on the shehnai is a nice example.

The maestros present an ecstatic bandish in Raga Anandi Kalyan.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Rāgeshree (रागेश्री)


Rāgeshree (रागेश्री), is a night melody and a rāgini of exceptional sweetness, like its sister Bāgeshree (बागेश्री). Though the poignancy of the विरहिनी seems toned down, it is still replete with शृंगार रस the essence of romance. I have been looking for some good recitals, some बड़ा ख्याल renditions for a while now – today stumbled upon two astounding pieces; one a performance by Ganasaraswati Smt. Kishori Amonkar and a second rare live concert recording of Ustads Nazakat Ali Khan Sahib and Salamat Ali Khan Sahib. These are utterly delightful

The quest for Rāgeshree today was triggered as I listened to a smallish recital of this melody by the Sitar Maestro Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahib. A small sample of a similar rendition of this rāgini by the Maestro along with his son is below.


I sit, letting the swaras wash over me, a truly delightful close to the weekend.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Far from the @#&*!@ crowds

Thomas Hardy was the master of understatement. “Far from the Maddening Crowds” is monumentally off the mark. Gobi No. 2 has discovered that he is severely allergic to crowds. Crowds follow the law of the Least Common Denominator. Thus the average intelligence of the crowd drops to the level of the dumbest individual in it. This severely assails the mental equilibrium of the Gobi struggling valiantly to keep away from the crowd.

But it is impossible to be the proverbial lotus leaf when attempting to navigate ones way through a crowd. The crowd is omnipotent and omnipresent. There is no escaping it. It sucks all individuals into its ruthless maws and eradicates their ego.

I guess in that sense, it should be a good place to practice transcendental meditation. Let me try that the next time I need to venture out into the fearsome crowds.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

तूर्तास गाभण!

तूर्तास गाभण! - Presently Pregnant

Most would construe the above as a rather crude (and very rude) way to describe the condition of a woman who is on, or in the build up phase towards, maternity leave. Most ordinary normal people - and mind you ordinary and normal are key operatives here - would be absolutely bamboozled if told that the above phrase is part of a remark - rather a rhetorical question - regarding a cup of tea! What on earth does the state of pregnancy have to do with a cup of tea? (Unless some marketing guru were to try to do an MR Coffee on some brand of tea!)

Here's what -

Many of us Indians, thanks to the Brits, have developed the habit of sipping tea with "a spot of milk". However, unlike the Brits, we have a fondness for a good deal more than just a spot of milk. Also, very very unlike the rest of the world - we Indians 'cook' tea very differently. We don't add tea leaves to a kettle full of hot water and allow it to brew. We take a vessel with some amount of water and set it on the stove and when the water warms up a bit, milk, tea-leaves and sugar are added in ample amounts and the potion is allowed to cook on a high flame. If the tea being prepared is 'special' or 'masala' chai - it may be cooked entirely in milk with generously stingy pinches of cardamom, nutmeg or such other condiments. When properly cooked, the 'tea' / chai is filtered into cups / glasses and served. If served in a cup and saucer, it is customary to pour the boiling tea into the saucer and blow it cold before sipping it from the saucer. A regular cup of tea may be about two saucerfuls. A saucer is also a handy way to share a cup of tea amongst two persons - though this sort of camaraderie is increasingly rare nowadays.

India has millions of roadside tea-shops (tea-howels, to be precise), which employ kids to run a sort of tea delivery service. The tea-kids go about with a battered olf aluminium kettle containing boiling tea in one hand, and a clutch of tea-glasses often carried in a wire tray similar to the one used for milk-bottles in the good old days. Particularly dexterous tea-kids may carry a clutch of cups and saucers instead of tea glasses.

And, so the story, or rather the 'character sketch', goes that a certain elderly gentleman was served a cup of tea, along with a bunch of acquaintances. Upon siping a bit of the chai, the said gentleman opined that the tea contained a lot less milk than a bonafide cup of tea should contain. Now, a dressing-gown clad English or brown sahib, reclining in a garden chair with a tea tray set on a tea-poy before him would, on discovering the insufficiency of milk in the tea would simply order the sepoy to pour a spot more of milk into his cup, and that would be that!

But the gentleman in question was no sahib. He merely fixed a stern beady eye upon the hapless tea-kid and queried - "रत्नंगिरिच्या समस्त म्हशीस तूर्तास गाभण काय रे झम्प्या?" - which losely translated means - "Are all the she-buffaloes in Ratnagiri presently pregnant, brat?" When asked like this, the poor brat had no reply to make.

This stereotypical, but very very apt depiction occurs in the "character sketch" titled Antu Barva (अंतू बरवा) by the renowned Marathi writer, dramatist, translator, poet, lyricist, composer, actor, orator, singer, director - basically very multi-talented artist - named P L Deshpande (पु देशपांडे)
better known to almost all Marathi speakers as PuLa. And Antu Barva is the archetypical chitpavan (चित्पावन) a community among others, that inhabits a small litoral stretch on the western coast of India known as the Konkan, (to which yours truly belongs). A community of sharp, slightly lazy, thrifty and proud folk that is known for acerbic crooked speech - like the one sampled above.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


My expatriate colleagues have found that this matches their experience . . .

This is an insightful understanding of Eastern Culture Vs. Western Culture... in an
course one can't generalize everyone into these 'categories' but the drawings do
capture the essence of cultural differences between the western and Asian cultures,

in a snippy entertaining way. Useful to know, for people who deal (or whose teams deal)

with people from other cultures; these images have become extremely popular across the corporate world.

Blue --> Western,       Red --> Asian

Way of Life






Queue when Waiting


Sundays on the Road




In the restaurant


Handling of Problems

Three meals a day



Elderly in day to day life


Moods and Weather


The Boss


The child
These pictorial representations were designed by Liu Young who was born in China and educated in Germany

May the bloggings begin . . .

A new chapter in collaborative blogging has teh begun! Two like minded nutcases, whose minds are equally unhinged in often diametrically oposite directions have decided to pour the vitriolic gruel that auto-cooks in the cauliflorean crevices of their cranial cavities into the bottomless pit of blogspace.

Said gruel is expected to be highly corrosive, without any known, predicted, predicated, or pre-dictated attributes. The gruel may display arbitrarily directed or misdirected toxicity and may or may not possess any known antidotes. It is expected to be a cathartic process as may be expected from the deployment of intellectual laxatives.

You have been warned.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Facebook Blog

I suppose it was inevitable that Facebook would some day encroach into blog-space by means of some application. Not sure how well it would do. In terms of features - the FB Blog interface is far from impressive.

On the other hand Facebook already has a 'community' of friends and acquaintances in place for users of the blog. Improvement to the interface is a matter of time - though the look and feel restrictions of having to conform to FB specs may be too onerous.

Lets see how things develop.