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Archive for August, 2016

While thoughts still linger on the dark skinned one, I hark back to our visit in October to Vrindavan and Mathura. It had been decades ago that I had visited these places as a child and I was looking ahead to walking the roads that probably our cowherd walked.

Mathura was a big disappointment with all the gun-toting security folks and a idol that looked more glitzy than holy. More disheartening was the way the priest who sat at the actual birthplace of Krishna had such a bored look on his face. He even refused to talk politely or answer our queries.

That much for expectations. I had imagined a more enthusiastic and benign presence at the place revered as the prison that served as birthplace for one of Hinduism’s last avataar. Some hushed silence, as one harked back to more than 3000 years. But the people were as noisy as any other place, milling and rushing by.

At least Vrindavan had some charm in its small bylanes over run by cows and monkeys. Monkeys that go for one’s spectacles! Yes, we were warned to keep glasses off the eye as a result of which the world around passed me in a blurred frame. Sure enough we witnessed monkeys at it. Strange. Presumably, according to our guide panditji, they use the glasses to barter for food!

The ashrams housing the ‘meeras’ are unique to Vrindavan. Many women of all ages live here and bhajans fill the air all through the day. As with any place in the north, temples are a place where money is demanded and if denied can win one curses. At the main temple here too, the priest does a customary pooja and starts quoting the rates to get your name inscribed on the stones. It is nothing short of harassment and makes you feel ashamed that this is one of the holiest places.

Wonder what Krishna would say?

The Madhuban or the gardens where he conducted his raasleelas with gopikas was another letdown. Looking pathetic and more like a shrub patch, the garden is nowhere near what I had picturised. Locals believe that Krishna comes every night to dance his song here, and the premises are kept locked at night. Panditji told us that every night the beetle leaf and other items left behind are consumed partly by the lord. He went on describe how a cameraman who decided to stay back lost his eyes! It left me wondering when Krishna had turned so violent.Effect of kaliyuga?

Not only are we careless about our art and artefacts, even our gods get a shoddy treatment from us. Sab chalta hai. I wish we could feel the joy when visiting the places associated with the joyful one. If not the wisdom. But sadly, that will not happen. Unless we change as a people.

 

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The song of love

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From the serial telecast on Star Plus

Whether a legend, myth or history, Krishna (whose birth is celebrated today) is a god with a difference. He is an avataar, yet so human that we all love him. He is a teacher, strict yet kind enough to understand Arjuna’s predicament on the battlefield. He is accused to be a manipulator, but when you listen to his arguments all doubts vanish. And the wisdom he gives to Arjuna in the form of Gita is unparalleled in its relevance and spiritual logic.

But above all, Krishna is loved for the love he throws around gaily to whoever has open arms. The image of Krishna brings to my mind a love so unconditional that by its very nature it is the ultimate. Love that encompasses the universe, discriminating none. Love that is what separates humans from the rest. Love that gives of itself and is never finished.

To know that the supreme power can be felt within oneself, if nothing else but through this love, brings tears. Tears of joy. Tears of reprisal — why did i wait so long to look within? But never mind, at least the journey has begun. There is now a longing to experience my self, a need to surrender to the supreme knowing that that is the best way forward in a world of illusions where everything is determined and we have no control, except in our attitudes.

The daily terror attacks, stories of child trafficking, cruelty to animals, rapes, etc used to torture my mind and answers were not forthcoming. In one reading of the Gita, the forceful sentence from Krishna dispelled the mirage, at least partially! ‘Why torture your mind with thoughts of death and shame and the ways of the world? It is all going according to the will of the supreme consciousness.’

There is a reason for everything being played out here on life’s stage. Transcend the body attachment, realise you are a deathless soul, and that everything is as it should be. There can be no more misery or despair. Just dwell in Krishna. Work your path in life towards realising your true nature, unmoved by joys or sorrows. Without getting carried away by ‘achievements’ or failures.

Krishna is all around, watching, waiting, smiling, playing the flute.

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Google’s doodle in India today pays homage to Jawaharlal Nehru’s historic ‘tryst with destiny’ speech in Parliament on August 15, 1947. “At the stroke of today’s midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”

Have we woken up, 70 years since, to life and freedom? What is the sense of the nation among us Indians? Have we shown any concern for the freedom won after a century-long struggle that saw many lives lost? How have we taken the country with the freedom won on Aug 15?

Yes, most of us are patriotic. But what is patriotism? Is it the high we get watching a sport played between India and another country, where India is winning? Is it the outrage experienced when Pak or China threatens our physical borders? Or the shame when India under-performs at the Olympics? Or, the pride in talking about a glorious past?

I believe it must be measured in how we as citizens conduct our lives through the day. At work, at home, at public places. How many of us can say truthfully that we have done our duty to the best of our ability? Without diluting it. Without twisting it to suit our needs. Without any compromise. Without the national ‘chalta hai’ attitude.

I have often wondered if a sense of complacency most Indians have in going through life is part of the regional genetic heritage, or due to acceptance of defeat at the hands of a humongous corrupt and ineffective system?  Why, for instance, do we have so few achievers, despite every one out five humans on the planet being an Indian? Is it the overall climate that encourages contentment? A contentment that some call laziness. Or is it the spiritual blessing of the land where competing with the other, feeling important about achievements, material pursuits, etc are not as important as peace within?

Not sure, but we sure are different from our western counterparts and their highly individualistic thinking. Good or bad, I am not sure again.

But yes, I sure am thankful to have been born in this land which automatically confers on one a certain value, a way of thinking, a way of life so unique and truly liberating. To that extent I am patriotic. But not for me the jingoism of the flag and nation. This is no disrespect to the people who do, or to the ones serving in the defence forces. Simply, each to his own.

I subscribe to Lennon’s Imagined world with no borders. What a dream to roam and mingle freely (like our ancestors once did)! From there to a universe with no borders, where one can travel at speed of light from one corner to the other, through wormholes or rat holes, greet other life forms, seen or sensed.  A celebration that never ends. A world where we can be proud of each other rather than just oneself. That is one tryst with destiny I would love to see.

 

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BAT

A visit to Mumbai for a wedding ended up being an enchanting lesson in observing bats at close quarters. At the GIC quarters in Bandra, the nocturnal mammals have set up a colony with hundreds taking up residence. I was able to observe them as they hung precariously by a leg or two during the day for their batnaps. Screeches in between signaled a mischievous one disturbing another.

It was monsoon time but the rain hardly disturbed them, wrapped as they were in their shiny wings, off which the water splashed off. The mammals looked much like humans in the way they displayed different characters. Some melancholic individuals chose spots away from the crowd, some opted for safety in numbers. Some tightly wrapped their wings around while some threw them open in a pose of abandonment displaying all private parts! Some slept through the day with short breaks while there were the insomniacs who kept moving at the slightest disturbance from a crow or vehicle horn.

The rust brown fur on the body looked so clean and fresh. I did see some of the sleepless ones grooming themselves, licking vigorously all over like cats. Some young males were feasting on their penis too. The wings glimmered like silk in the rain.

I kept watching and wondering how the creatures that may weigh around a kg or two managed to sleep so peacefully, hanging by a thin leg from a branch of a tree as high as seven floors. The bats kept switching legs that clawed around the branch. At times they would hang by three limbs, at times by two or even one. They are made that way with specialised tendons that cling around the branch while the bat is relaxed. Also, bats are able to ‘fall into flight’ than a take off from vertical position which would require much lift.

Thankfully pregnant female bats, they hang head up to use gravity and ease birthing pangs, I learnt later.

The large eyes that opened once in a while caught me unawares and made me feel like an intruder. A long nose and small ears complete the foxy look which lends it the name of the Indian flying fox or Pteropus giganteus. The wing spans around 1.2 to 1.5 metres.

Unlike its cousins with large ears used in echolocation (detection of objects by sensing the echo of sounds emitted by the animal) this one’s ears are small. The smell and eyesight of flying fox, or the Indian fruit bat, is keenly developed and helps in locating its food which are ripe fruits like mangoes and bananas.

The brief two-day exposure to the creatures sent me googling on bats. I learnt that of the 1200 and more species of bats, India is home to 119 documented bat species. Bats are the second largest diverse mammalian group with flight and complex evolution.

Mothers carry the young for three weeks and nurse for about five months. The young ones fly at about 11 weeks.

Mention bats and chances are most people will wrinkle noses at remembered stinks from bat defecation in old, dingy places inhabited by bats. Kids may think of Gotham’s savior Batman. Those well informed will tell you that bats were believed to be the reservoir of Ebola virus. Others may talk of them as pests that raid orchards.

But fact is bats have kept their distance from humans till we began eating into their habitat. From forests they were forced into urban areas where they became unwelcome soon enough.

When disturbed the flying foxes make screeching sounds as also early morning and at dusk when arriving or leaving on their pursuits of food. This had prompted attempts by some human residents to shake the sleeping bats off their perches. Finally, they let them be, as only busy Mumbaikars can!

Some bat species feed on insects and pests and again, reduced populations of this food has driven them to human habitations, with the attendant risks of chemicals and noise pollution, etc.

Fruit bats are excellent pollinators while insectivorous bats act as pest control as they feed on insects three times their body weight daily. But all that apart, they must be conserved simply for what they are – another of life’s wonderful evolution on this 4.6 billion years old planet.

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