I Have Met God—He’s a Bureaucrat

My God is a bureaucrat

In the best traditions of Indian bureaucracy

 

I pray and plead

But He has no time

For petty, individual sorrows and requests

Because He is looking

At the bigger picture

 

I rant and rave

Against the unfairness of the order of things

But His look tells me

That He can only worry about

The overall order of things

 

If you and I and a little ant

Feel aggrieved

That is really our problem

For the macro-indicators

Are showing a positive trend.

 

I try to make sense of things

But when I ask Him to explain

He tells me that it is not for me to understand

All these things are decided ‘at a higher level’

 

I try to get in touch when I need him

But He never responds

Maybe because He is in meetings

Or on tour

 

And so I have learnt

To cope with my problems

My tragedies, my questions

Because though

Right to Information is now an Act

God won’t respond if he doesn’t want to

And usually, he doesn’t.

 

–Meena

Game of Thrones:  Arya The Last Avatar?

 

In Hindu mythology, Vishu the preserver manifests whenever evil overtakes the world, to destroy the wicked and wickedness, so that the good may take over. There are 10 avatars or forms that he takes, one following the other, to do this. And this is an endless cycle.

white-horse-4031101_960_720

While is no complete agreement on all 10 avatars, there is no doubt on who the last one is. Kalki, the rider of the white horse.

Kalki avatar, it is said, will manifest at a time when the world is in a crisis because of a wicked and tyrannical ruler. The coming of Kalki will lead to the destruction of evil and the earth will be rid of its suffering and sorrow. Kalki will rejuvenate existence by ending the darkest and most destructive period and usher in the Satya Yuga (Era of Truth).

Shiva is said to have given Kalki a sword and said : ‘I give you this sharp, strong sword and so please accept it. The handle of this sword is bedecked with jewels, and it is extremely powerful. The sword will help You to reduce the heavy burden of the earth.’

Does George RR Martin–or Weiss and Benioff considering we are referring to the last season of GOT–have any interest in/acquaintance with Hindu mythology?

If they did, I would say that Arya shows shades of Kalki! The Seven Kingdoms seem to be at the peak of wickedness. There is a going-off-the-rails ruler waiting to take over from a positively wicked one. So the time is right for an avatar. Arya now seems to be shunning violence. She seems to be in a phase where she may well make it her mission to destroy evil and restore good.

Like Kalki, her chosen weapon is a sword, given to her by a preceptor, Jon.

And the biggest sign of all– she now rides a white horse!

And more than anything else, should not the saviour, for once, be a woman! It will be good for at least one avatar to be a woman! And it will help GOT, which is being criticized for bringing down all strong women, or the good in strong women, in its last season.

So one more theory to add to the flurry of theories which are inundating us from all sides—Arya as Kalki!

–Meena

 

Our Life Our Story

The wonderful tradition of keeping diaries and journals is ages old. The exercise of recording one’s thoughts, memorable moments, and pouring out teen-age angst was pretty much a part of our growing up years. And now, many years down history as it were, revisiting these is a wonderful trip down memory lane. Sadly in this an age of instant communication (often only in limited characters) and fleeting memory, there seems to be no time to spend on recording what will, some day, be history—our own and that of the world we live in.

The recent engagement of the Matriarchs in developing textbooks for young children has brought us again and again to the challenge of ‘how do we instil in children a sense of history?’ Not history in terms of dates and names and events, but the idea that where each of us is today, is one point in the continuum of time and generations. In this age of small nuclear (and often single-child) families, the tradition of oral histories passed on through generations seems to be getting lost. Children need to know “where do we come from, what is our family like, what have we learnt from our family experiences and history?”

Well here is someone who is trying to address similar concerns in a new way through History Hive, the brainchild of Moon Moon Jetley, a historian and researcher, who looks beyond academia.

Moon Moon and I worked together on a project last year, and bonded over many shared interests, and love for cold coffee and French fries! I was excited when she told me about her project-in-making for trying to connect people with history in an innovative way.

This is now up and running as History Hive, with its first product My History Kit. The inspiration behind the kit is personal history and the necessity to record it. This is a hands-on creative history experience that helps its users to connect with, and record their personal history with family stories, experiences and milestones. The kit contains a journal, a map, a dice and a puzzle. The Journal is a space to write your own story, the dice is a writing prompt, the puzzle a fun element, and My History Map is a space to creatively recreate your story, not only in words but by sticking mementos of the moments—pictures, souvenirs and anything associated with the experience.

The kit can be used by a wide age group (15-95 years) and people from diverse professions–doctors, writers, lawyers, home makers, teachers, travellers, entrepreneurs, start up owners, actors, and just about anyone who wants to tell, and keep their own stories.

Make your own history! Check out https://www.historyhive.in/

–Mamata

 

The Naming of Cyclones

T.S. Eliot said, about the naming of cats:

‘The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games’

The naming of cyclones is surely at least as serious!

We have just been reckoning with the damage caused by Fani. Thanks to the excellent predictions and forecasts, as well as the concerted efforts of government authorities, damage has been minimized. Yet, lives have been lost and there is much rehabilitation to be done. We all need to do our bit.

But why was the cyclone named Fani? Why do cyclones have names at all? Doesn’t it sound a bit like trivializing a serious matter?

Well, no. Cyclones are given names to simplify communications and avoid confusion. It is important for forecasters to keep in touch with each other, and for governments to give information on cyclones to the general public. Since the storms can often last a week or longer, and more than one cyclone can be occurring in the same region at the same time, names can reduce the confusion about what storm is being described. The normal practice is that once storms produce sustained wind speeds of more than 34 knots, names are assigned from predetermined lists depending on which basin they originate.

Every region forms a committee of nations who are more prone to cyclones or hurricanes. For the Indian ocean region, Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Thailand form the Committee, and the governing body is the Regional Specialised Meteorological Centre (RCMC), New Delhi. This is the body which assigns names for cyclones originating in our region.

Each nation making up the Committee prepares a list of ten names which they think are suitable to be assigned to a cyclone. Out of each country-list, RSMC selects eight names and prepares eight lists which consist of the names approved by the governing body. The names of cyclones are not allocated in alphabetical order, but rather, the countries are arranged alphabetically, and the names selected from each country in the list, one by one.

Fani is a name contritued by Bangladesh. Names contributed by India are Jal, Agni, Vayu, Akash, Bijli, Lahar, Megh and Sagar.

Starting World War II till about 1979, cyclones were generally named after women. This practice was modified in 1979 by adding men’s names. Now names are by and large not personal names. Most are names of flowers, animals, birds, trees, or even foods, etc, while some are descriptive adjectives.

So at least in this matter, some amount of gender sensitivity has been brought in, and destructive forces are not tagged with exclusively feminine names!

–Meena

The Worshipful Bull

In Indian mythology, Nandi the bull is both the guardian of Mount Kailash, and the vehicle of Lord Shiva. The worship of Shiva and Nandi goes back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilization. The bull-seals found in Mohenjodaro and Harappa  have led some researchers to conclude that Nandi worship goes back many thousands of years.

A statue of a seated Nandi is often found in front of Shiva temples, facing the God. In metaphysical terms, Nandi represents the individual soul, looking to unite with the universal soul or Shiva. At a mundane level, people often use Nandi as a communication medium, whispering wishes into his ears, so that he may convey them to Shiva, who may listen to him more readily than to us!

Why suddenly this interest in Nandi? Because I was in Orissa this week, and did a three-hour road journey and also visited 5-6 villages.

Still doesn’t explain it?

nandi

Well, it was the number of Nandi statues I saw in this time. Almost every hamlet and village had one. Pretty big and prominent. Sometimes the shrines they were in front of were smaller than the Nandis. And there were also some stand-alone Nandis! They were in all shapes and sizes.  A few small, most medium sized and a few really large. Some smiling, some serious, some with inscrutable expressions. Some puny and under-fed, some healthy. Some in proportion and some not-so.  But Nandi, after Nandi, after Nandi.

I have travelled to several states. I have seen ever-increasing number of stand-alone Hanuman statues; and several Shiva statues. But as far as I can recall, I have not come across so many Nandis. I am not sure why there should be so many in Orissa particularly, because traditionally, large Nandi statues are more prevalent in the South—Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamilnadu. But I do not recall that Nandi statues are found so commonly in these states.

The largest bull statue is in the Mahanadiswara Swamy temple in Kurnool, AP. It stands 15ft by 27 ft. This is followed by the bull in the Lepakshi Temple, also in AP. Other prominent Nandis are the ones at Chamundi Hills, Karnataka, Brahadishwara Temple, Tamilnadu, and of course, Banagalore’s own Bull Temple. Orissa does have one of the big 10 Nandis, at Bhanjanagar town.

But I think the state must beat all simply in the number of Nandis dotting the state scape. These are not old—would not think many are over a decade in age. It would indeed be interesting if someone could undertake a study to understand why there is such a proliferation in recent times. Wish it could be me, but sadly, I don’t think I can do it at the moment. So when I go back to Orissa, I will content myself with just looking out for them, counting them and clicking them

–Meena

When is a Flower not a Flower?

When it is a bougainvillea!

Yes, I learnt pretty late in life that what I thought were the petals, are actually bracts! And what pray are bracts? Well, seems bracts are modified leaves! They grow above all other leaves, but below the petals. And no, bracts are not to be confused with sepals, which are the green, leaf-like things which cover the petals when the flower is still in bud stage!

Confused? Well I was. But when I looked more closely at the bougainvillea, I got it. Look closely and you will see small white flowers at the centre of what you would a minute ago have called a pink flower. (There are three such small flowers within each set of bracts, though you cant quite see them in the pic.)

bougainvillae flower

Bracts are often brightly coloured and have evolved to attract flowers. Our friend the bougainvillea is a great example of this, with bracts of magenta, pink, yellow, white, orange and every other colour! Another flower that is not a flower you think, is the poinsettia. The bright coloured petals are bracts. In grasses, each floret is covered by two bracts, and each group of florets has another pair of bracts at its base! The dried bracts are the chaff we remove from the grain!

A seemingly simple cheerful plant, which happily blooms for us on road-medians, along compound walls, in gardens. Fairly easy to grow as long as it gets enough sun and we take care not to over-water. But I have found three levels of complexity:

  1. The spelling. I just cannot get it right without the spellcheck! Yes, I know it is named after a person. But please can we do something about it?
  2. This bract-petal confusion.
  3. The woman who discovered it, while disguised as a man and who never got the credit (see our post ‘Colour and Cheer’, 15 Nov, 2018).

Simple is the new Complex! Or do I mean Complex is the new Simple?

–Meena

What-a-Melon!

What is red and green and white,

And a summer delight?watermelon slices.jpg

Watermelon!

This uncomplicated sweet and juicy fruit has always marked the onset of summer (prelude to the more sensuous, refined flavours of the mango!).

A recent family discussion on whether there was more to this melon than a lovely colour, sugar and water led me to explore. This is what I discovered!

Yes, it is 91.5% water, and thus a great antidote to dehydration; the juice is also full of good electrolytes which can even help prevent heat stroke.

But what else?

Watermelon is great for your health! It not just refreshes, a watermelon…

Is loaded with vitamin C and vitamin A, and contains essential minerals like potassium.

Has dietary fibre for digestive health.

Is bursting with lypocene which is considered to be a super antioxidant that prevents damage to cells and immune system.

Contains a natural substance called citrulline that is said to improved artery function and lower blood pressure, as well as protect against muscle pain. Watermelon juice before a gruelling workout may help reduce muscle soreness. But guess where citrulline is concentrated most? In the white flesh near the rind, which also has blood-building chlorophyll! So instead of throwing this away–try putting it in a blender with some lime for a healthy, refreshing treat.

And for something that tastes sinfully good, it is fat-free, and very low in sodium and calories.

Curiously the watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) wears a dual hat of being fruit as well as vegetable, belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family which includes cucumber and pumpkin.

It is believed to have originated in the Kalahari desert of South Africa. It may have been carried by seafaring merchants across the world–as far as China which is today said to be the highest producer of watermelons. It is believed that it reached the United States with the slaves from Africa.  Today watermelon is the most consumed melon in the United States, where July is celebrated as National Watermelon Month!

And we thought that it was our own special summer delight!

What-a-Melon! Supermelon!

–Mamata

Game of Thrones

The small screen is definitely dominated by GOT currently. Whether the much-awaited HBO release, or the Indian elections.

GOT-HBO is a debate at some level on the divine right of kings and queens; defining bloodlines and who has the right to inherit; and on the need for popular support even if one thinks one has the ‘divine right’.

Not unlike the Indian elections!

But that is not the substance of my Election Day piece.

What’s in a Word?

It really started with a confusion about the word ‘suffrage’. We learnt it by rote in middle school Civics, as in ‘India has Universal Adult Suffrage.’ Such a strange word. Seems more related to suffering than anything else. But surely that couldn’t be!

The origin of the word is not clear. To quote Merriam Webster dictionary, ‘suffrage has been used since the 14th century to mean “prayer” (especially a prayer requesting divine help or intercession). So how did “suffrage” come to mean “a vote” or “the right to vote”? To answer that, we must look to the word’s Latin ancestor, suffragium, which can be translated as “vote,” “support,” or “prayer.” That term produced descendants in a number of languages, and English picked up its senses of “suffrage” from two different places. We took the “prayer” sense from a Middle French suffragium offspring that emphasized the word’s spiritual aspects, and we elected to adopt the “voting” senses directly from the original Latin.’

Another theory says that the voting meaning comes from the second element frangere, and the notion is “use a broken piece of tile as a ballot”, and seems to go back to the 1530s. The meaning as in “political right to vote” in English is first found in the U.S. Constitution, 1787. (https: //www. etymonline.com/word/suffrage)

Making It Universal

Well, as our Civics books told us, India has Universal Adult Franchise. At 12 years of age, I did not understand how profound that was. Each and every citizen of the country who has crossed a certain age, irrespective of gender, education, caste, creed, religion, properly ownership, can vote. And this has been in force from our very first elections in 1951-52. Many countries of older democratic tradition came to adult suffrage only by slow and painful steps. For instance, in most countries, originally only land owners could vote. Universal suffrage came to South Africa only in 1993. Between the 1890s and 1960s, many state governments in the US insisted that voters pass a literacy tests before they could be allowed to vote—a ruse to exclude African-Americans and other racial minorities from voting.

The most vigorous battles of course were for Women’s Suffrage—fought by women on the streets of many countries including the UK and the US. In most countries, there was a lag of a generation between adult men getting the franchise, and women getting it.

Women in India got this automatically from 1950. But while we had the vote from the very first elections, there were many women who did not exercise this the first time around. Here are some very interesting insights from a piece in the Economic Times: ‘During the creation of the electoral roll, a number of women, nearly all in North India, wanted to be registered not under their own names, but as “wife of..” or “daughter of…”. This was the practice in their communities and when this issue first came up in provincial elections in the 1930s, colonial bureaucrats allowed this.  But now the officials of independent India refused. “The introduction of adult franchise is intended to confer on every adult, male or female, the right to participate in the establishment of a fully democratic system of Government,” the government of the United Provinces (now UP) wrote, emphasising the need that “no adult, male or female, is as far as possible left unrecorded in the electoral rolls”.

Many women could not vote in the first election: The Chief Election Commissioner of that time, Sukumar Sen, estimated that ‘out of a total of nearly 80 million women voters in the country, nearly 2.8 million failed to disclose their name, and the entries relating to them had to be deleted from the rolls. Sen decided that registrations would happen by the next elections. Votes for women, in their own identities as citizens of India, was a principle that could not be compromised.’  (https:// economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/on-the-centenary-of-womens-suffrage-a-look-at-how-india-achieved-electoral-equality/articleshow/63150595.cms).

Something to be said for the strength of conviction of the Chief Election Commissioner!

Voting Age

While most countries—over 100–have 18 as the minimum age for voting, there are some countries who hold the age as 16, and a few at 17. There are a handful of countries who have set the age at above 18. For example, South Korea’s legal voting age is 19 years; Nauru, Taiwan, and Bahrain hold it at 20 years; Oman, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Singapore, Malaysia, Kuwait, Jersey, and Cameroon at 21. The United Arab Emirates has the oldest legal voting age in the world. Citizens can only vote when they attain the age of 25 or older.

Many may not remember, but in India, we started out with a voting age of 21. The Sixty-first Constitutional Amendment brought about in 1988, lowered the voting age from 21 years to 18 years.

Vote, vote thoughtfully, vote with the hope that exercising suffrage reduces suffering!

–Meena