Musings

The New Wave

Wandering upon the restless e-Sea, I came across this gem written by writer Usha Srikanth … thought you might enjoy it as much as I did!

ushasrikanth's Blog

Mili was jolted out of her reverie by the rap – tap on the window glass of the car. She looked sideways sheepishly at ‘Sundari’. It was the regular signal stop a few miles near Mili’s house. She worked as a technical trainer and drove to work every day, somehow her thirty eight years of life in the hub – hub of the cosmopolitan was faced with mid – life crisis. She needed money for her kids’ education; her career had hit a dead end. She’d tried everywhere else for better prospects and was tired of this tread mill race. Life got nowhere; the road ahead only seemed to be getting steeper and steeper. She was exhausted; there seemed no purpose, no enthusiasm and finally no happiness in her cumbersome life.

Mili searched frantically in the glove box of the car; finally she looked up and said “Sorry Sundari, no…

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Musings

Dark Noon in Dagshai

“This is where prisoners who created trouble – or who resisted interrogation – were brought,” said Reddy. “There are 16 cells like this one; as you can see, there are no windows.” He turned his wrist slightly, and the torch beam illumined the interior of the cell, arcing left to right along the grey, drab walls, up to the wooden-beamed ceiling, down to the pinewood floor. “The prisoner would be left here all alone. Solitary confinement…” his murmured words were swallowed by the dense, dank air.

And then, without warning, he switched off the torch.

I am not afraid of darkness. But I had never experienced or imagined darkness like this. It was monstrous, a living, breathing, cold, reptilian thing, filled with malice; a thick, suffocating cloak, saturated with dreadful memories…of  pain, screams unheard, endless loneliness, of derangement, death…

I fought down the panic that threatened to swamp my mind, forced myself to take a few deep breaths; I reminded myself that it was a wonderful sunny day outside, that just beyond the foot-thick walls of this room were forested slopes carpeted with wild flower, the autumnal beauty and freshness of the Shivalik hills. But somehow that awareness only made the blackness of the room more intense, more horrific; it was an atrocity in the midst of innocent beauty.

“For the prisoners who were sent here, it was dark like this: hour after hour, day after day.” Reddy’s tone was conversational, almost cheerful, strangely muffled by the choking darkness. “But never more than a week. No prisoner ever lasted more than a few days before breaking down and screaming for release – or losing their minds.”

Suddenly the cell was awash in the light of his torch. I swallowed a cry of relief that rose in my throat. We stepped out of the room. He shut the thick wooden  door to the cell and bolted it; then, he drew the great iron outer door shut and bolted and padlocked that as well.  “After Independence, when the Indian Army took over Dagshai Cantonment and decided to make a Museum here, including this prison, we found all kinds of instruments of torture in these rooms,” he said cheerfully. “But visitors were upset on seeing them…so they’ve all been removed.”

Within the solitary wing

“Well…I’m glad for that,” I muttered.

“But the British were imaginative,” he went on. “They didn’t always need torture instruments: here, take a look at these doors. ” He raised his torch to better illumine the two doors to the cell. “Can you see there’s a narrow space between these doors?” I nodded. “Well…the space is barely sixteen inches wide. Sometimes, if a prisoner showed any signs of stubbornness, the British guards would make him stand against the inner door, and then shut the iron door so that the prisoner wouldn’t be able to move an inch after that. He would have to stand motionless, arms by his sides, unable to sit or bend his knees, unable to turn his head, for hours on end…” he fell silent.

I found my voice at last. “Were the Irish soldiers who mutinied kept here?”

“Yes.  There are records. The British were meticulous about maintaining records on Dagshai Jail and all the prisoners who ever saw the insides of it. Including the charges against them, their sentences, their conduct and treatment…and of course the dates of their release, or execution as the case might be.”

“Even Daly…”

“Yes sir, even Daly…”

He led me out of the Jail and into the two-room Museum that forms a kind of annexe to the Jail.  I thanked him for showing me round, we shook hands and he strode off:  Bhargava Reddy, a fine young Indian Army soldier from Andhra Pradesh, in his mid-twenties with field experience in Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu (“on the LOC”, he told me proudly), Ladakh, Rajasthan…and now, Himachal Pradesh. “Dagshai is peaceful after border postings,” he had chuckled. “I’ve enjoyed history since school days…so CO-sir has assigned me the duty of showing visitors round the museum.”

According to legend, ‘Dagshai’ is derived from the Urdu ‘Daag-e-Shai’— a royal mark which was branded on the forehead of those arrested and incarcerated here.

Reddy had told me much about Dagshai and the mutiny in his crisp, matter-of-fact manner.  Dagshai Cantonment had been established by the British way back in 1847, on land obtained free of cost from the Maharaja of Patiala. In 1849, a Cellular Jail was constructed in Dagshai—the only other jail of its kind being the infamous Andaman Cellular Jail. The Jail was little known till 1920, when the mutiny took place.

 

walk-up-to-pinewood-for-kaapi-1.jpg
Dagshai Cantonment – view from Barog
Dagshai Jail - 1
Dagshai Cellular Jail

The mutiny had been led by Private James Joseph Daly, an Irishman attached to a company of the Connaught Rangers who were stationed in Dagshai in 1920.  That was a time when much of Ireland, under the leadership of the Sinn Fein and its military wing, the Irish Republican Army, was fighting for independence from Britain. In January 1920, the British government set up a mercenary army to put down the Irish ‘rebellion’. This brutal army of mercenaries was called ‘Blacks and Tans’ (or simply ‘Tans’) from the colours of their improvised uniforms—a mix of British Army and Royal Irish Constabulary outfits—and was the brainchild of none other than Winston Churchill, then Secretary of War. The Tans became notorious for their atrocities on innocent civilians in Ireland.

Word of the Tans’ cruel deeds reached Dagshai in June 1920, and on the evening of 1st July, Daly led a band of Irish and Indian soldiers, armed with bayonets, in an attempt to raid the company magazine. The soldiers guarding the magazine opened fire, killing two men and wounding another. Sixty-one men were convicted for their role in this short-lived mutiny: fourteen were sentenced to death, including Daly.

Mahatma Gandhi visited Dagshai upon hearing that a number of Irish and Indian soldiers had been sentenced to death for mutiny. Gandhi spent a night in the jail—in relative comfort—as a token of solidarity with the mutineers.

Daly was the only soldier whose capital sentence was carried out:  on the morning of 2nd November 1920, he was executed by firing squad.

After Reddy left I stood awhile in the Museum before a simple framed sheet on which were typed the lines of ‘The Dagshai Mutiny’:

To the tiny homesteads of the West
The recruiting sergeant came
He promised all a future bright
So the brave young men went off to fight
For the Empire and her might

And many’s the victory they had won
Many the hardships they had seen
They fought and died, side by side
Their enemies they had defied

And for a foreign king.

And the drums they were a-beating time
While the pipes did loudly play
When Daly died, the drums did beat
That morning in the Dagshai heat
Now we’ll beat the drums no more

While serving in a far off land
The news had come from home
Of a peoples’ fate it did relate
Of the Tans and their campaign of hate
And we’re fighting on their side
Arise! Arise! young Daly cried
Come join along with me
We’ll strike a blow for Liberty
Our regiment will mutiny and support our friends at home

And the drums they were a-beating time
While the pipes did loudly play
When Daly died, the drums did beat
That morning in the Dagshai heat
Now we’ll beat the drums no more

And the Colonel stood before his troops
Those men who mutinied
He told them of those honours won
But the men stood in the blazing sun
Saying we’ll fight your wars no more
For cannon fodder we had been
For the French at Waterloo at Suvla and Sud Elbar
We fought your every bloody war
And we’ll fight you wars no more

And the drums they were a-beating time
While the pipes did loudly play
When Daly died, the drums did beat
That morning in the Dagshai heat
Now we’ll beat the drums no more

Those men got penal servitude
And Daly’s condemned to die
Far from his home in Tyrellpass
This young man’s died in Ireland’s cause
Far from his native land

And the drums they were a-beating time
While the pipes did loudly play
When Daly died, the drums did beat
That morning in the Dagshai heat
Now we’ll beat the drums no more.

It was late afternoon when I set out to walk back down from Dagshai to Barog. A slightly chill breeze carried the fresh, bracing scents of pine resin, wildflower, damp earth. The silence, the sense of timelessness, was somehow intensified by the hum of dragonflies, the whisper of pines, the rustle of undergrowth as an agile cow clambered up a precipitous slope to munch on a delectable bush. The azure sky was flecked with tissue-thin streaks of cloud…translucent islands in an infinite ocean.

Dagshai is such a quiet, beautiful place.

It is a particularly terrible place in which to be imprisoned in torment, in darkness.

The road to Dagshai has portraits of many martyrs, from the Indian armed forces.  Dagshai is indeed a good place to remember martyrs. Patriots.

Daly doesn’t have a portrait in Dagshai. But his memory lingers.

Martyr 2Martyr 1

Martyr 3Martyr 4

On the way

On the way-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Jai Vijaye Bhava,T M Krishna!

The other evening – 17th of November it was – I went with a couple of friends and heard T M Krishna sing at the Garden of Five Senses, Delhi.

It was great!

Krishna was in fine voice; a voice I’d heard only a couple of times earlier, rendering Thyagaraja krithis as smoothly as folk songs. Oh, and also singing in a short but powerful campaign video against Unilever for dumping toxic chemicals and endangering the people and ecology of Kodaikanal (click here to see it)

That’s all I knew of Krishna till around the 14th of November; that he was a great musician, innovative, that he sang for good causes.

And then this great big thing blew up in our faces, amplified to megaton levels by media: that Airports Authority of India  and Spic-Macay had abruptly cancelled a scheduled concert on 17th November featuring Krishna, among other artistes. AAI gave no reasons for the cancellation; but I understood, from editorials print and online, that Krishna was regarded by BJP sympathizers – and therefore, the Central Government, and by inference, AAI too— as ‘anti-Hindu’ and ‘anti-Indian culture’, all because he, Krishna, conveyed pithy political and social messages through his songs. I also heard and read that Krishna had been cruelly trolled by ‘right-wing Hindutva’ nuts.

All this I found profoundly disheartening, disturbing, disgusting.  I hoped, over those two days that followed, for some strong reaction from the Central Government, from AAI…but there was only stony silence.

And so, when Delhi’s AAP government announced that it would host a performance by Krishna on the 17th, I decided I must attend. Not to convey some glorious ‘secular message’ or make a ‘political statement’ or anything pretentious as that, but to simply hear Krishna, a musician who just wanted to sing from his heart about things he felt strongly about… and had been cruelly treated for wanting to do that.

Given the circumstances, I was a little worried about the event becoming more a political jamboree than a music concert. But credit to AAP leaders Kejriwal and Sisodia, not only did they arrive only about 20 minutes late, which is incredibly early by Delhi standards, but their bhashans were mercifully brief and non-incendiary. Krishna himself was all dignity: he murmured that he was there not to speak but to sing…and so he did: wonderfully, passionately, movingly.

Now, clacking out these words, I wonder: why must we taint everything in our lives that brings joy, with the corrosive acid of divisive politics?

My music or writing or theatre, my art, my rendering of what I think of as art, might not be to your liking, and vice versa; but surely we can each find the art we like and peacefully enjoy it without having to mock, disfigure, destroy others’ likes, others’ art? Without hurting others?

Just as you, gentle reader, might hold the view that I can’t write for nuts (doubtless with great justification). But that shouldn’t drive us – and our fans, our acolytes, assuming we have any – at each others’ throats?

Like:  I never liked M F Hussain’s paintings. M F Hussain, in my view, couldn’t paint for nuts. I have said so to friends who like M F Hussain’s paintings. It hasn’t affected our friendship.

I remember even writing so once (in Indian Express, in a letter): in the late 1990s, a time when, weirdly, it had become the politically correct thing to like M F Hussain, and you risked being branded ‘Hindu communalist’ or ‘fascist’ if you said you didn’t like Hussain. Well, I wrote I didn’t like M F Hussain’s work, not because his work offended my religious or cultural sensibilities but because his work offended my artistic sensibilities. But (I added) that didn’t mean I had the right to burn his paintings or run the man out of the country.

You, I, anyone at all, can take on T M Krishna fair and square, one-on-one, for his political views, such as they are…just as Krishna has the right to take on any of us fair and square for our political views, such as ours are.

But when Krishna the musician is invited to present his music, we must welcome him and respect him as musician.

I have heard Krishna, I love his music, I admire his politics. But that’s my opinion; you can think differently, it’s okay.

But none of us, none of us can allow a government institution like AAI to judge  an artiste, any artiste, by his or her perceived ‘politics’.

It is terrible, the way AAI has capitulated before a gang of nameless, faceless e-thugs whose claim to represent ‘Hinduism’ or ‘Indian culture’  is as well-founded as Lashkar e Toiba’s claim to represent ‘Islam’ or ‘Islamic culture’.

It is good that Delhi’s AAP government gave Krishna a chance to play at the Garden of Five Senses…and us the chance to hear him.

As of today, 19th November 2018, I am a votary of AAP.

But I shall watch AAP’s future activities with considerable interest before taking the call at the next polls. Knowing our politicians, be they from Left, Right or virtually non-existent Centre, chances are high that the AAP will commit some colossal balls-up ere long…

That’s why we need you, T M Krishna! Jai Vijaye Bhava! Jai Hind.

Musings

Entranced at India Music Summit

This is sentimental. Because music makes me sentimental.

I write this with the feeble authority of one who has taught himself to play percussion by ear. I must hastily add: I also play percussion by fingers, palms, and feet.

I write to say I was utterly swept away by the ocean of music created by the many ustaads who performed during the MTV India Music Summit, organized by Musiconcepts at the Fairmont, Jaipur from 12th to 14th October.

I dare not try and describe what they played or how they played or why their performances were so wonderful, so moving, so magical. That is best left to the countless others who are more qualified and knowledgeable than me in matters musical.

But this much I bravely declare: the music I heard during the Summit unshackled my mind (it is of no relevance whether the mind was already unhinged); it carried me off to float effortlessly into realms of utter harmony, where, on the waves of timeless rhythms and riffs and cadences and chords, I transcended – if only for a few days – the mechanical world of space-time that I think of, and usually dwell in, as Reality.

Borrowed and adapted shamelessly from Musiconcepts
Some of the maestros who played at the Summit [I’ve shamelessly ‘borrowed’ and adapted this collage from Musiconcepts ]
Among the maestros who performed at the Summit were Shujaat Khan on sitar, Ajay Prasanna on flute, Amit Choubey on tabla, Ambi and L. Subramanian on violin, Aruna Sairam and Suresh Wadkar on vocals, Prasanna on guitar…. to name just a few. We heard Indian and Western classical, jazz and rock and world music, pop and devotional…

And more than once, at the end of some performance when I opened my eyes to the sound of applause and cheering as the last ethereal notes faded, I remembered something that the great jazz drummer Max Roach once said: that a great musician makes music the way a lover makes love.

Many of the musicians at the Summit demonstrated (and how!) the truth of this maxim in their performances: blending boundless curiosity with childlike delight, self-control with confidence; tempering blazing passion with tenderness, raging desire with empathy; taking us soaring to celestial heights of ecstasy, utter abandon, and then gently, respectfully, bringing us back to earth…

They performed with love, pure and unselfish. The love resonated as much in the joyous, crystal-clear choruses of the Mizo Cardinal Choir as in Usha Uthup’s husky, throaty, sending-shivers-down-the-spine crooning; in the devotional songs of Mazhar and Javed Ali Khan and of Pandit Chhannulal Mishra; in the innocent, lilting violin-cello-piano melodies of the Ramakrishnan Trio comprising Aaliya, Naima and Nisha; in the divine flute duets with which Suchismita and Debopriya Chatterjee dispelled dawn’s chill and welcomed the rising sun.

And if the Summit was shaped and held together by these many delicious and diverse strands of music, their impact was hugely enhanced by the interludes during which the maestros shared their musical knowledge and insights with us, through relaxed baithaks and conversations filled with anecdotes and banter. It was amazing how, with seemingly no effort or intent, these little one-off sessions developed a dynamic and logic of their own, with the ideas and musings and music in one session reflecting and being built on in another, till they became threaded together into a single string of multi-faceted, many-hued gems of gyaan.

There was so much of value, so much to listen to and revel in, so much to learn. Here are just a few random strands drawn from rapidly fading memory, in no particular order (the interpretations and translations, and any inaccuracies in them, are entirely my own):

  • Shujaat Khan, fondly recalling his father Vilayat Khan, and also Bhimsen Joshi who would often visit their home:

“Once, while listening to me as I was doing my riyaz, Joshiji began to chant the refrain of what sounded like a bhajan. Of course the bhajan blended perfectly with the raga I was playing, but I was unfamiliar with the lyrics. They went something like this (sings):

       Pachhhee-suhha

       Lakshmi Maaaa Ryg Gyu – Poo

       Ney-Mahaa

       Raaaaasha-Trahah

“After we finished, I asked Joshiji what the bhajan was. He replied, with a chuckle, that having momentarily forgotten the actual lyrics, he had instead sung out the address of his residence in Pune: ‘25, Lakshmi Marg, Pune, Maharashtra’… 

  • Shankar Mahadevan, talking about his work with Bollywood songs and explaining—through songs—why we must, and how we can, respect, preserve, build on, and popularize our incomparable musical heritage—Hindustani, Carnatic, and all their many regional streams—without compromising on the rigour and purity of their classical systems and structures.
  • Shujaat Khan on sitar, sliding almost mischievously from a lovely contemplative Hindustani classical piece to a Bollywood pop tune. And leading us, with his wizardry on the strings, on a voyage along a river of liquid notes during which we experience the closeness of music to nature, to life, to Creation.
  • Ambi Subramaniam with his violin bearing us smoothly, blissfully, across the realms of jazz, world music, Carnatic raga.
  • Chhannulal Mishra effortlessly switching from Hindustani raga to Carnatic raga, providing glimpses into the one deep ocean whence both great rivers of traditional Indian music originate…
  • Sufi Kathak dancer Manjari Chaturvedi,  speaking  passionately on her ‘Courtesan Project’ to erase the social stigmas attached to the tawaifs (courtesans) and give them the respect and credit they deserve as  supreme exponents of dance, music, drama and literature:
    • Today, it has become so convenient for us to depict the tawaifs as ‘victims of sexual exploitation’ because they were women who performed in the nawabs’ courts. This is wrong! By the same token, we ought to be depicting as ‘victims of sexual abuse’ the men who performed in the nawab’s courts! The truth is, the tawaifs were great artistes, they were ustaads. And ustaad is a gender-neutral word! We only denigrate the tawaifs, we diminish and devalue their achievements by looking at them through the narrow prism of gender. Their music, all music, should be judged by its intrinsic value and quality, not by the gender or social position of the performer…”
    • “NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft, launched in 1977, carry ‘golden records’ containing sounds and images intended to depict the diversity of life on Earth for any extraterrestrial intelligence that may come across them. The records contain music from many countries: the song selected from India is the raga ‘Jaat Kahan Ho’ sung by khayal singer ‘Surshri’ Kesarbai Kerkar. Today Kerkar is still remembered in NASA’s golden disc on distant Voyager…but she is forgotten by us…”

The memories of the conversations blur and coalesce; presently they will fade and disappear altogether.

The music and passion endure, enthrall.

    High on music, captivated by this mighty war drum, I tried echoing the driving beat of  the Fairmont Gatekeeper…and succeeded in driving away a number of guests

General ravings, Musings

A road forgotten…a road remembered

Wandering through some long-forgotten folders, I came across a few ancient F-class photos from late September 2008, when I travelled for a few days in eastern Uttar Pradesh, visiting villages in Allahabad and Pratapgarh districts. These villages were home to migrant brick kiln workers: primarily, kiln firemen and their families.

I’d taken these photos with my first and most favorite camera phone. How I miss its simple practicability: no frills, no fancy apps, just the large-sized alpha-numeric keyboard, left–right button navigation, and a 1-megapixel camera. The phone, alas, is long expired; as indeed are most of the memories of that trip. The sights, sounds, scents, emotions, the people I met, our conversations, the food we ate, the places I stayed in, the sequence of events, their vividness, the once-sharp outlines, are now smoothed and rounded off and merged into one amorphous, uniform, featureless, mass…like the distant hill you see from a speeding car or train, a blurry pile shimmering in mid-afternoon haze like a dream, seemingly moving along with you, keeping pace as you speed along across a vast plain, but ever-so-slowly lagging, slipping back, till it is left behind forever.

Yet the photos now bring back shards of memory; and even memory of memory. Broken memories they are, discontinuous, yet sharp and clear as glass splinters. A few village names come to mind:  Ghuisarnath, Akhirajpur, Lakhram, Tharia. The drives to the villages, from Allahabad or Lalganj or Pratapgarh, were very hard on the bones and muscles, especially the stretches along rutted, pot-holed country roads. Yet I’d loved the experience. With the monsoon over and winter yet to set in, the streams and canals ran deep and wide, the exhilarating aromas of moist earth and damp vegetation hung over the rich green countryside, raucous birds rejoiced in the dense copses of mango, babool, neem, amla.

Amidst this richness, the firemen’s villages presented a sharply contrasting picture of poverty, endless toil, of quiet, timeless despair. Typically, each village was located on elevated ground; a few score huts scattered across the slopes, linked by mud-and-rubble-and-brick paths, with the inevitable tank at the base of the village, filled to the brim post the rains, some with flotillas of duck. Every village had a shrine, usually a temple of sorts, beneath some giant pipal or banyan, fronted by a large swept clearing that was the community meeting ground.

Sewing class taking a break – the newspapers are not for reading, but used instead of waste cloth (a costly and hard- to-get raw material) to train the young seamstresses
Tharia

Such was the little village of Mendara. Memories of trudging across broken land and halfway up a small hillock to where a great banyan stood, ringed at a respectful distance from its hanging roots by other smaller trees. Sitting in a circle with the villagers beneath the banyan, conversing about the lives they led—at the kilns, which were sometimes thousands of kilometers away, where the firemen worked ceaselessly for seven months or more each year in the most horrific conditions; and in the villages where, with the menfolk gone for most of the year, the women and children and the elderly faced extreme hardships.  How deeply moving was their warmth, their innocence, their incredible generosity. Hogging large quantities of fresh gur, bananas, drinking sweet yet deliciously strong chai liberally laced with goat’s milk. Walking around the village; making comic faces at the little children who scampered around and giggled and guffawed and made faces right back at me. The small village shrine, exquisitely clean, utterly peaceful, with fresh flowers and a bunch of bananas placed in front of the tiny sanctum lit by a single lamp, redolent of goat’s butter.

Mendara

The village elder led the way up toward the crest of the hillock. The trees thinned, the ground levelled off, and suddenly, we were standing on the edge of a cliff that followed the contours of the hillock on either side: a broken, fifty-foot- high wall of angular rock faces and red, iron-rich earth, strewn with stone and rubble and the corpses of countless trees and bushes that had once dwelt on the slopes. Far across the shallow valley I saw a line of low hills; and running across their midriffs like a jagged knife wound, a road under construction—its course marked by the hideous, characteristic signs of road building in Indian hills: scarred slopes, littered with mounds of earth, blasted boulders, tree trunks scattered like matchsticks on the denuded expanses.

“That is the new road from Allahabad,” the elder murmured.

“The Allahabad Bypass Expressway,” a young fireman corrected him politely. “It will turn round that slope and pass close to Mendara, right below us. See? They are working quite close already.” He pointed toward the left and I saw in the distance a stretch of muddy track carved out from the hillside. A bright yellow earth-mover was gouging out great chunks of earth from the slope; the clattering roars of its engines faint but distinct.

“They say the Expressway will bring us jobs; that it will bring prosperity to us,” the young fireman went on. His voice was hesitant. “With jobs, maybe we can earn more, be closer to home through the year; we can take care of our women, our children. Maybe we won’t have to travel to work in faraway brick kilns any more…”

The elder sighed. “Yes…but with the coming of the road, our old ways are vanishing,” he went on softly, his eighty-five years carved into deep lines that divided his face into a thousand weathered segments.  “So many trees have been felled; entire forests are gone. We have always grazed our goats, our buffalo, in the plains down there, but now the grasses are withered, the ground is hard, the streams are bitter, or have dried up. Where  will we take our animals for grazing when the road is finished? When thousands of vehicles are moving up and down, day and night?”

His voice trailed away and we stood there in silence.

And that’s when, without warning, a memory flooded my mind like a river; a much older memory, from a time when I was much younger, maybe ten years old. It was during a drive in the mid-1960s, somewhere between Jorhat and Kaziranga in Assam; father was driving the car, mother seated next to him, brother and I were dozing in the back…till we were woken up with a start by the screeching of tyres as the car braked to a shuddering stop. Through bleary eyes I saw, in the dull red light of dusk, a dozen goats milling about on the road in front of the car, a young goatherd – a boy about my age – frantically darting about, crying out and wielding a bamboo stick expertly till he assembled the animals in a loose group and led them across the road and up a path leading to a cluster of huts on the slopes to the left.

“My God, I nearly hit them,” father murmured, his voice trembling, hands gripped tight on the wheel.

“It’s all right,” mother murmured. “I’ll drive for a bit…you take a break, you’ve driven the whole afternoon…”

As we set off again, mother at the wheel, I spoke up. “Stupid goats. Stupid villagers! Why do they have to live so close to the road?”

Father glanced around sharply but before he could speak mother replied. “Understand, always remember, they were here before us.” Her voice was soft but stern. “The villages, the villagers, were here long before this road came…before we came…”

On that hillock above Mendara, I heard and felt the impact of those words undiminished by the decades…as I do now, fifty years older but not much wiser.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

General ravings, Musings

Epics, Epic Idiocies, and Truths

Do bear with me, O suffering and patient reader, while I, at the risk of offending you, rant on many strange things—as always, without knowing why. On history, science, the nature of discovery, epics, epic stupidity…and most incoherently, on why I am always uncertain, always a little angry because I have no idea what’s truth or half-truth or untruth any more.

First, do take a look at this screenshot of a WhatsApp message I received from a friend whom I’ve always considered to be far more erudite and rational than me.

Inglorious Heritage

I read the message very carefully from start to finish and from top to bottom; I studied every row and column, I even turned the phone backward to discern any hidden meanings I might have missed (succeeding only in taking a selfie of my elbow and part of one ear, which I will post separately – the selfie, I mean, not the ear).

But I discerned no hidden meanings. There was only this brave, neatly tabulated edict shining forth on my phone screen; a declaration that physicists in ancient India had discovered the principles and laws and patterns that explain how the Universe works long before pretenders of the ‘West’.

Briefly, I felt the Worm of Incredulity stir and wriggle in my mind. Quickly, I reached for my mental Bata chappal and squished the foul creature. For, I am a proud Indian; I love my Veda and Upanishad; I wanted to believe!

Staring at the awesome proclamation, I felt my mind’s heart swell with pride at the thought that my glorious scientific Indian super-ancestors had discovered all there was to discover in the Universe, as long as 9000 years before any of those ‘Western physicists’. In my mind’s eye I could see them now—a multitude of goggle-eyed Western physicists tumbling at relativistic velocities, arse-over-elbow, into the great Latrine of History, to be swallowed by the eddying and foaming waters and flushed away into the Celestial Cesspits of Dissolution. In my mind’s ear (located just below my mind’s eye), the cerebral air resonated with the throbbing, universal sound of the sacred syllable “HOME”…

Hooommmmmeeeeee

I cackled in unholy glee as I beheld Anaxagoras, Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Maxwell, Planck, Rutherford, Bohr, Einstein, Dirac, Fermi, Feynman, Born, Schrodinger, Chadwick — heroes of my misbegotten and ignorant youth, now exposed as charlatans and pretenders, the bloody saala kuttas!— plunge headlong into that awesome and awful Thunderbox of Time…

Alas, my celestial reverie was rudely interrupted when, in that cerebral procession of academicians, I saw the familiar and beloved faces of Satyendra Nath Bose, C V Raman and Subhramanyan Chandrasekhar. Arre bhai, I thought to myself, these are deshvaasis! Enna daa, these are my very own Indian scientists! Pioneers they were, too, in their time; pathfinders in esoteric and diverse fields of knowledge, from nuclear physics to cosmology. Were they, too, cheats and frauds, usurpers of discoveries made in Vedic times?

The Worm of Incredulity wriggled frenziedly in my cortex; abruptly, the spell was broken. I regained my normal semi-sanity, and having fortified myself with strong kaapi, replied to my friend, expressing my doubts about the veracity of the tabulated data. I wrote:

I sometimes suspect idiotic messages like these are being created by CPM and affiliated scoundrels just to make the public ridicule ancient Hindu texts – a purpose served when gullible people forward these messages without a thought!”

Rather unfair, of course, as pointed out by another dear friend. Why point a finger at CPM alone, she asked, when the real reason why such messages work is because there are any number of idiots (including, damn nearly, you) who will believe anything they are told; who cannot, or will not, tell truth from untruth?

But then, I reflected later, what in Allah’s and Krishna’s and Marx’s names is ‘truth’?

I wandered the campus alone through the night, pondering the question. I asked the night-watchman, and the night-watchman’s dog: to no avail.

Now, as I type these meaningless words, I wonder: maybe ‘truth’ is what I choose to believe to be the truth?

Because today I can choose what I want to believe is the truth, damn the rest of the world, empowered as I am by the mainstream media and Net which allows me to sift through like 367 startlingly different versions of the same news or event to find the version of ‘truth’ that makes me the most comfortable.

TimesNow said so!”

I saw it on The Wire…so there!”

Indian Express carried it!”

Ha! NDTV will never mention it because they’re in cahoots with You-Know-Who!”

Maybe truth is simply, conveniently, what my dear friends believe to be the truth as of today; and I believe that truth because I don’t want to be seen as silly or churlish or – most scarily – apart from the group by doubting, questioning, arguing, differing.

Maybe it’s all these reasons, and more. Maybe there’s no such thing as ‘absolute truth’ anymore; if ever such a thing held …er…true.

Maybe we are all equally at sea. Lost in a stormy, ever-swelling Universe-wide ocean of information: an electromagnetic, 5G ocean that swamps our senses, numbs our brains, distorts our thoughts, impairs our cognitive processes, alters even our dreams with its mega-blather of social media twitter and chatter, its tides of toxic subliminal multimedia messages and memes. We are tossed about on its terrifying Waves of Opinion, maddened by the shrieking Winds of Hates and Lusts that lash the waters into froth, hurled again and again toward the jagged, slippery Reefs of Judgment;  our Sails of Resolve shredded, Compass of Confidence cracked, Lamp of Reason shattered, Moorings of Morality long forsaken…

And all the while, the ravenous Beasts of MAM wait impatiently for us to impale ourselves on the Reefs, or to release our despairing grips and slide into the seething waters …they, who have reduced our minds to a uniform, amoeba-like state of imbecility, the perfectly uniform baseline in which the only variants are the Truth-Feeds they manufacture and feed us with, 24/7…

The Beasts of Marketing, Advertising, Media.

Today’s Holy Trinity: Creator–Sustainer–Destroyer.

I seek, and find brief solace, in the music of that wonderful rock opera of the last century, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’: I shudder in the terrible words of Pontius Pilate in converse with Jesus:

Jesus: I look for Truth and find that I get damned.

Pilate: But what is Truth? Is Truth unchanging law?

We both have Truths—is yours the same as mine?

[https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVB8QBurhV0]

Musings, Verse perverse

Pralayam dream

Pralayam dream

[Inspired by the Beatles’ ‘A day in the life’ – with apologies to their estate, and to my gentle readers. Please click here to listen to the original song]

I read the news today, oh boy
About a glitzy man who made front page
And though the news was rather sad
Well I just had to laugh
I saw the photograph…

He slew six mild folk with his car
Too high to notice that the lights had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d seen his face before
Nobody was really sure if he’d done wrong
Their Star he was…

I saw a film today, oh boy
The Indian Army had just won the war
A crowd of people turned away
But I just had to look
‘N liked it on Facebook
I’d love to burn ‘n nuke it all…

Woke up, fell out of bed
Swigged black tea to clear my head
Checked WhatsApp, chewed some stale old crap,
Looking up I noticed I was late
Checked my Tweets, tripped on the mat
Made the bus in seconds flat
Found my way upstairs and had a smoke
Somebody spoke and I went into a dream

I read the news today, oh boy
Ten thousand died in riots; ten million cheered

And though the dead were large and small

They had to count them all…
Now they know how many dead it takes to fill our Malls ‘n Prayer Halls
I’d love to burn ‘n nuke it all…