Disillusioned!

Strange is the English language

‘Disillusioned’ is a word

But ‘illusioned’ is not!

Which seems to imply

That ‘illusioned’ is so status-quo

That it does not need to be discussed

That it is the state most people live in

That it is the ‘reality’, (Oh! World of contradictions!)

That there is nothing unusual about it

So taken for granted that is will not be mentioned often enough

To make it worth having a word for.

 

And that brings English in its core sensitivity

So close to the concept of Maya

–Everything in the world

A grand illusion

 

But whatever the philosophers and semanticists have to say

About the reality

Or the unreality

Of the world and words

 

I only know

That once you are disillusioned

It is very difficult to be ‘illusioned’ again!

–Meena

The Lacy Brittle: Beawar Til Papad

Indian sweets are yum to the Indian palate. But they don’t lend themselves to hyper-levels of visual appeal enhancements as do cakes and pastries and other sundry desserts, as portrayed in various TV shows.

One traditional sweet which is intrinsically beautiful and delicate is the Til Papad from Beawar. A mono-layer of sesame and thinly sliced pistas and almonds in sugar syrup, each papad is see-through. Just hold it up to the light for a lacy view of the world beyond!

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At some point in my life, I studied in Mumbai, and it was always an adventure to reach Jodhpur, where my parents were, for the vacations. One such journey must have entailed some portion being done by bus, because I distinctly recall wandering around the Beawar Bus-stop. And that is when my fascination with this sweet began. Several shops were making the til papad. Basically til and nut-slivers were cooked in sugar syrup, which was taken off the heat at just the right moment; balls made of the goo; and highly skilled cooks rolled them out, one til-thick. It was amazing to see them at work, for they had to work with hot goo, and roll it really fast and thin.

A few weeks ago, someone from Rajasthan kindly gifted us a box of til papad, and that brought all the memories back.

Digging a little deeper into Beawar, I found that it was not one of the ancient cities of Rajasthan, the story of whose founding is part-history, part-mythology. Beawar was established by a British officer, Colonel Charles George Dixon, in the 19th century as a military cantonment. Situated as it is at a tri-junction of Jodhpur, Jaipur and Udaipur, it gained and still retains importance as a trading centre.

The people of the area were apparently as brave and war-like as from any other part of Rajasthan, and the British had a healthy respect for them. One source tells me that the name ‘Beawar’ originated from the term ‘Be aware’.

In recent history, Beawar’s claim to fame is its link to the Right to Information (RTI) movement. The RTI movement started with a number of activists demanding  transparency, after conducting investigations into wide-spread corruption at panchayat and block levels. The then-CM of Rajasthan, Mr. Bhairon Singh Shekawat assured them he would bring in RTI. But even after a year, this did not happen. So on April 5, 1996, thousands of citizens and activists congregated in Beawar. The protest took place at a busy traffic roundabout called Chang Gate, and lasted 40 days. This laid the foundation for the RTI being brought in.

So sweet little Beawar is strong too!

–Meena

 

Distances Are Measured In..

Musings as the monsoons approach….

 

How strange to live in a world (or shall I say, a city)

Where distances are measured not in units of length

But in units of time!!

So that when Kiran says

“I am at Bannerghatta. How far is your place?’

I say not ‘10 kms or 12 kms’

But ‘40 minutes–keep your fingers crossed’.

 

And distances depend on time of day and day of week!

So that when Pramod asks me on a Sunday afternoon

‘How long will it take me to get to your place?’

I say ‘I will put on the tea. You can be here in 10 minutes.’

But when his wife calls on Tuesday evening and asks me the same question,

I say ‘Oh, oh! Our other guests will be here in 15 minutes,

And its going to take you at least 45!’

 

They also depend on time of year

For after the monsoons, when the roads are more holes than road,

A 1 km stretch is a 15-minute ride

While in winter, with the roads freshly—if superficially—done up,

It is a whiz-past of 2 minutes!

 

And did you know, distances depend on who is in town?

For when the PM or the FM or any other M visits,

We count distances in hours, not in minutes.

 

My science teacher, who poor soul,

Lived in as high an ivory tower as is possible,

Will be most deeply disturbed

Because it seems

That nothing is absolute anymore!

 

–Meena Raghunathan

 

PS: I live in Bangalore, most notorious of all cities in regard to traffic. But many others are not far behind, unfortunately. When will we plan for sustainable cities?

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.

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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

 

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

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

The Lost Charm of Train Travel

A recent relatively short train journey was an unexpected eye opener. When we were young, travel meant long train journeys. This was a much-planned programme, and one of the highlights of a vacation whether it was the annual summer holiday at the family home, or a Diwali get-together at the home of a close relative.

It was a while since I had travelled by train. I was looking forward to re-experiencing the small things that had characterised those train journeys. One of these was the sampling of ‘speciality snacks’ of different stations. Almost every station traditionally had something sizzling—being deep fried in large cauldrons on the platform, and wrapped steaming hot in old newspaper or banana leaves, depending on the region. Between stations there was a constant stream of hawkers calling out their special wares—from masala peanuts to the fruit of the season to the ubiquitous “chai garam.” Another ritual while starting a journey was the buying of ‘filmy’ magazines and comics from the cluttered AH Wheeler stall—a treat that marked the mood of a textbook-free month.

Buoyed by these memories I embarked on my journey. The first disappointment was to not find a single newspaper vendor around. There was no AH Wheeler stall on our platform, and the one on the platform across was shut even though it was not so early in the morning. So no “time pass” magazines or newspapers. Disappointment two was the food scene. No sizzling pans and oily bhajiyas and puri bhaji. Every station had the same looking stalls with their array of packets of chips, chips, and chips and similar packaged snacks in the standard multiple ‘international’ flavours—ranging from schezwan to barbeque to French onion! Oh yes, they all had a small pile of cold stale bread pakodas and vada pao that no one seemed to want. What a homogenization of the rich, savoury and distinctive flavour of railway platform culture, and a sterile tribute to an age of rip, crunch, munch and throw-away culture.

In the train itself the story repeated itself. I think I learned a great deal of geography simply by looking the passing landscape, with my father pointing out to the different crops that were growing in the fields, the changing appearances of the people and the houses, flashes of birds, animals or trees as the train rushed by. This was supplemented by a railway timetable that listed the names of the stations en route, and comparing the arrival and departure time of our train with what was scheduled as per the time table. Even the names of different stations had their own stories and histories.  Till today, I can travel for days by road or rail happily gazing out of the window.

This time it was a bizarre sight to see every person in the compartment—old and young—glued to the small screens of mobile phones as the wonderful 70mm mega screen scenery flew by unnoticed. Children whined and complained of being “bored” when they tired of whatever it was they were watching on their phone, and were presented with yet another packet of chips or frooti drink; not one parent looked up to point to the window and say, “why don’t you look out?” I watched helpless and sad…What a sad waste of opportunities.

Perhaps the ultimate blow came when some of the passengers ordered food online, which was delivered at the notified station. One young woman stopped watching her third movie on her phone only long enough to alight at the next station to pick up her order of Domino’s pizza!

–Mamata

 

Did You Not Want to Ask…

A woman’s greatness is measured by the ‘sacrifices’ she makes. Has much changed?

As Women’s Day approaches, these unasked questions trouble me…

Sita:

A question I have asked myself

Did you not have the option

To leave the kingdom to your brothers

And come with me?

You left the kingdom to them once before

Oh, I remember!

That was your duty to your father.

Duty to a wife

Obviously does not come

Above duty to a kingdom.

Radha:

You vowed you loved me

But you knew you were never coming back

And you went ahead and married so many women

Did you ever look back?

Draupadi:

You fought for me and won me

But you didn’t utter a word

And went out of your way to not show special love for me

And why did I, such a confident princess

With a powerful father,

Accept this?

Was it that you felt inferior to me

And powerless.

And you wanted to prove you were powerful

By your treatment of me?

Parvati:

Your indifference

And I had to keep

Coaxing you

Sati always hovered over my head

Like Rebecca.

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–Meena

PS: Picture is the cover of DURYODHANA, By V. Raghunathan. Harper Collins. Illustrator: Nilofer Suleman