May 25, 2015

The Beginning

It is said that every beginning starts with an inspiration – sometimes human, sometimes divine. And probably this beginning required a divine one. Somewhere in the hills of Himachal, I suddenly realized that it was perhaps time to write more about travel. Himachal, the abode of the Gods, made me realize how travelling makes one a better human being, how travelling together makes you love one another even more. Sometimes, travelling is all the succour a parched soul needs.

Himachal is breathtakingly beautiful. The walks through the villages, the silence of the apple orchards, the cakes from the bakeries that call themselves ‘German’ all add to the quaint beauty of Himachal. From the touristy mall road of Shimla to the quiet of Mashobra, from the snowy caps of Solang Valley, to the roaring waters of the Beas. Himachal beckons you with all the glory of nature.

However, nature can also be devastatingly beautiful. For us, Manali would be always be remembered for the fury of nature at her full glory. As we rafted down the rapids of the Beas, the clouds broke and Beas reciprocated in full. She was angry and her anger grew as she tossed and turned the puny humans trying to keep their raft afloat on her current. When we finally got to the shore, nature had taught us a lesson we would never forget.

Himachal is at the cusp of a change. Civilization is slowly catching up and the green of the valleys slowly are giving way to more and more real estates. The appetite of Delhi for a second home is slowly beginning to spread to both Himachal and Uttarakhand and as the number of tourists increase, so does the trampling of nature by those who for generations had kept it safe. The Palace of the Kullu kings showcase how you can be one with nature and yet build something substantial. But no longer. The palace is now a hotel, while the administrative capital has shifted to Shimla.

New roads, new dams, electricity, schools all spring up as they should. So does new hotels, guest houses and summer residences. And often without a second thought about nature herself.

It does feel at times that more than anything else, Himachal is about Gods. Hindu mythology comes alive in every pebble and every stream that flows through the mountains. The sages of Hindu scriptures have all left their marks across the springs and often you wonder if the seven immortals of Hinduism will suddenly come forth from behind the ageless trees.

The hills and villages have their own travelling Gods and they move from village to village ensuring that no harm comes to the villages. The Mega Gods of Hinduism are revered as well but what sets Himachal apart are these unique Gods. The Village Gods sit in council as well and take a decision based on what’s best for the villages. And then they travel back. At times, there are no roads to these villages and the Gods sit on their own unique ropeways and travel upwards to their destination while their bearers trudge the tricky mountainous terrains.

Shimla herself has the Bengali Kali Bari and the Shimla Church. Ages ago, two communities had made Himachal their home. The Bengalis worshipped the Mother Goddess and the British worshipped Mother Mary in their summer residences. And when you walk in to their hallowed halls you can hear history whispering into your ears. And then far away from Bengal if you miss your food of home, just walk down the steps of the Kali Bari where even today a Bengali can find his heart’s desire of home cooked food.

Close to the Himalayas, you are never away from the divine.

April 27, 2015

The Beginning of Sin

I have been always fascinated by the story of the apple and man’s first sin. At the outset, it is a straightforward demonstration of human nature. We love the forbidden. We love to reach beyond our limits, to touch what’s beyond us. Exploration of the unknown is our inherent nature. Deep within, the explorer calls out to every single one of us. And therefore over the ages, men have sinned – gone beyond the acceptable limits.

However, on deeper analysis, sin is a lot more complicated. And nothing demonstrates its veracious stages better than gluttony, the only sin I succumb to again and again. It starts with temptation – the subtle hints that come to you from the aroma, from the sounds in the kitchen, the clink of glasses, the sizzle of a molten lava cake, the sudden appearance of a red velvet dream. The next is resistance. We turn around, we refuse and yet the hunger rises within and it’s a hunger like no other. It’s not for physical satiety, rather it’s for the soul, the tainted soul. For the pure soul can resist any temptation. We try to retain the purity. But unlike the Son of God, we finally succumb.

What follows next is the actual act of sinning. We vacillate between snobbery at it best and Gluttony at its worst. In the former, we assume the shroud of pretence, assume who we are not and then slowly we slide in to our sin. In the other, the distinction between man, created in the image of God, and an animal slowly vanishes and in some strange semblance to the apocalyptic world of Animal Farm, men forget their nature.

What results however, is only temporary satiety. The soul is tainted a bit more but the now darkened soul is not satisfied. It wants more and more.

Post this, comes repent. A shameful look at self and the promise of making every bad deed good comes. And if the repent is strong maybe temptation is kept at bay. For temptation, it is certain to come and the cycle repeats itself.

The question is – can it be broken?


March 13, 2015

For Clothes Maketh a Man!

In a land far far away, there lived a boy. He was born in a library (Don’t ask me how!) and since birth all he had seen were books. Very often when his mother came to sing a lullaby, she would find him already away in a land of dragons and heroes with a book under his pillow. He loved books and often dreamt of working in a bookstore. When I asked him if he would rather work in a library, he often seemed lost as if faced with Hobson’s choice. For how could he leave one for another? Then when I would force him, he would slowly pick his bookstore. To the young kid, if he owned a bookstore, it would mean never ever having to share his books and having them all to himself, just for himself.

He was lucky as he grew up. His teachers patronized him. His friends loved to share their books with him for he would complete an entire Hardy Boys Mystery overnight, starting at 14:00 hours as soon as the school broke. The librarian was his friend and while others would descend on the Games Room at recess, he would slowly pack his bag and walk towards the library.

As he grew older, his friends started to have interest in other aspects of life. The first razor and the excitement of the first shave; the induction into manhood, the first Axe Deo and believe it or not the first Cherry Blossom Wax Shoe Polish! These had become part of their boyhood and yet he persisted with his books. Being able to quote from Paradise Lost seemed to be a far higher calling than having the ‘Axe Effect.’

And so the years went by and like most other dreamers, the young boy was awakened into a world where he was told, it’s not enough to own a bookstore, but perhaps it’s more important to earn enough to have all the books he would ever want. From the Far East he had travelled West. He had learnt of money and what money could buy. Every month he would go and buy books by the dozens and when money would run out he would search for books in the alleyways of the city, always believing that he had made a bargain.

The day he left the country, he had a suitcase of clothes and two book cases full of books. The day he came back, he still had the same suitcase full of the same clothes and a whole new set of books.


And that’s when he realized the world had changed. Books no longer were in vogue. What mattered was what you wore. It was like school all over again with shiny new toys being the talk of the day and not the dusty old books from the library. He passed every Strand Sale reminding himself to “wear the old coat but buy the new book!” But it became harder. For now, in the changed world, clothes had begun to make the man!

February 13, 2015

Rage


Sometimes I feel we have forgotten to be angry. We have forgotten what it is to seethe in uncontrollable rage. We accept and move on. We let it be, for we fear retribution. The only time we allow our anger to come out is when we are in a crowd. The anonymity gives us courage. Our true animal instinct from our hunter gatherer days comes to the fore and we often engage in mindless violence as the anger bubbling beneath our calm visage comes forth.

I for one have never shied away from smiling even when I wanted to shout the heavens down. Anger never solved problems, I kept telling myself. Yet there are days when I want to be angry. I want to feel the burst of adrenalin that rushes forth as anger is released. But all I feel is cold fury; somewhere deep deep down.

That’s when I wonder if others have felt this rage. And I find my answer in art. I find it in Robert De Niro in Raging Bull, in Marln Brando when he walks ‘On the Waterfront’, in the Bengali literature of the tumultuous seventies. I find it in my peace loving elder colleague’s quiet admiration of Amitabh Bachhan of the early Eighties. I find it in Caravaggio’s angry strokes. Every time a society is angry, art creates an outlet for its rage.

I turned to Bollywood late into the night, angry with nothing in particular and I found my old DVD of Ghatak. Rage has never been so well depicted in Hindi Cinema. The movie is the depiction of a society bursting at its seams, frothing in its mouth and waiting for the change it desperately wants.

Since then, India prospered, moved forward and our movies changed, some say evolved. And raw anger was no longer what you wanted to see in your movies.


And slowly, as I said, I realized that we have forgotten to be angry anymore.

February 01, 2015

The Acts of Kindness

Every day as we go about in our daily lives, often wondering about the choices that we make, nothing cheers us up more than the sudden acts of kindness that strangers show our way. Over the last few weeks I have suddenly become aware of them and remain eternally thankful.

A lady slowing down her car so that I may cross the road, the unknown colleague holding the door open for me as I balance my laptop, my coffee mug, my phone and my notepad, someone offering to take my box of trash while I wonder where have all the dustbins gone, the auto driver sympathizing with me over my long hours at work.

Somehow we miss acknowledging these gestures, often taking them as nonchalantly as we would accept a rightful heirloom. In our rush to meet deadlines, the faces that held the door opened for us flashes past in a blur. People who do not matter seem and feel invisible and slowly our lives start becoming a lot more inhuman.

The other night I was in an auto somewhere in Andheri. Suddenly at a signal, a guy came running, “Can you drop me ahead?” There was no sense of request, the word please did not seem to be known to him and there was no waiting for an acknowledgment from my side. To be honest it was a bit scary, but then I still trust Bombay.

As the kid spoke, his story seemed interesting; he had planned to get off from a BEST bus without paying for the ride, was caught and was fined. He got off again, without a word of thanks but I guess that’s fine. In a world where an abuse and expletive laden show takes the internet by storm and defended under the garb of free speech, courtesy is often the easy prey.


But it showed me one thing. Not just we are forgetting to be kind, we often are afraid to be so. And that does not bode well for a world torn with strife.

January 05, 2015

To Hug or Not to Hug!!!

Being a global citizen, at least considering oneself to be a global citizen can be tricky. The nuances of how you interact with people around the world change every time you meet someone.

Having grown up at a boy’s school – we knew only four ways to express ourselves. A succinct nod, a firm handshake, a pat on the back and then if the occasion really demanded it – a manly hug. (e.g. a lovely drubbing given in a college fest to Calcutta Boys, Xavier’s, La Marts et al)

Now the hug is a great gesture. It shows warmth, personal camaraderie and bonhomie. Maybe at times, it’s a complete invasion of private space but then a hug is a hug and we boys did hug, but as I said only when occasion demanded it. The hugs I received when the infamous IIT results of 2001 came out were more than any words of consolation that my crestfallen teachers could offer me.

When I went to college, suddenly there were the better half of our species all around and the seniors loved to hug. While I did try to protest saying it was unwarranted physical contact; often that would be followed by squeals of laughter and a second hug. After sometime I realized resistance was futile.

I slowly realized that hugs can be wonderful. When you are in the receiving end, it comforts you and allows you to collect yourself together. Hugs and I became friends and friends got hugs. Now the hugs were of course not for everyone. You had to be in the circle of trust! The hugs would never be allowed to wander about. That would be profligate! Bangalore had a mixed crowd – those who hugged and those who didn’t. We were still a small batch trying to learn ‘Business’ so you knew very soon who to hug and who not to hug.

When I started working, of course hugs took a back seat. In India, hugging someone might send a signal that you are about to get married and I was no longer in the wonderful wonderland of Pilani with no one to frown upon such things.

To hug or not to hug became an important question and the answer soon became a firm no! In India you never hug anyone. Period. The firm handshake and the nod came back. Hugs took a backseat. Friends started getting married. So it was of course the right thing to not go around hugging them!

But then I started working with a lot of professionals from across the world. And the hug came back. And what a return it was! And I walked in with trepidation into the new found world. And the hugs changed. The Filipino hug accompanied by the laughter, the big warm Latin American one, the cautious European ones (is it one cheek, two or three?), the surprisingly warm Russian and Turkish ones, the non-existent British ones and so many others.

And then the confusion was of a more pleasing nature – not whether hugs would be frowned upon as a workplace gesture but whether it was acceptable to hug as long as the two in question agreed to it. As they say, the hugs were back!

Most important thing however in the question of hugging is your spouse. If you are with someone who is a strong crusader of personal space and a big naysayer to hugs, then you must step carefully my friend!

Then all you are allowed is an approved Hugs list!



December 14, 2014

The Loss of our Gods

One of the biggest assets of Hinduism I have always felt is its decentralization of religious practices. And therefore I have always believed more than a religion, it is a way of life. We have more Gods than we can count and remember and while many believe that Hinduism is essentially a throbbing, living example of polytheism, I always believe it also has the traits of Monotheism and Pantheism. Which is why when someone from Europe wonders how I plan to celebrate Diwali, I itch to answer, “Just like the French wine connoisseurs celebrate Oktoberfest.”

Our different Gods help us to reach the One as we deem fit. And then we find our own unique ways to reach The One. But as I travel around the country, I see a strange phenomenon. Slowly the complex fabric of our culture is giving way to the worship of what I call the Mega Gods – The avatars of Shiva and Vishnu. Even the Incarnations of the Mother Goddess are losing out to the male deities of Monotheist nature. The local gods are slowly being forgotten. In Luka and the Fire of Life, Rushdie speaks of the Forgotten Gods from ancient religions who no one remembers anymore. Slowly the Gods in our ancient forests and lakes and mountains are facing the same fate. Time it seems is able to consume even divinity. Whether it is good or bad only time can tell. I just wish there was someone working on the forgotten Gods of India.

While the Gods leave, one by one, like the vanishing languages of the world, the ‘Godmen’ fill up their places. Feeding on our insecurities, they now control a vast swathe of our country and slowly blind faith and rituals replace the logical mind that once told us that paths to The One can be many and yet they reach the same destination.

Sometimes you need the light of Knowledge to show you the way. For darkness is powerful and all encompassing but always loses in the end.