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It was just by chance one day we noticed an unusual clump of leaves outside my study. It looked like they had been stitched together at the ends to form a pouch and this was filled with some white feathery, cottony stuff.

In a day or two, again by chance we saw the builders visit the site. Two tiny birds, brownish green and one had a nice pretty smudge of pink on its head. Tailor birds we learnt. They had given us the blessed joy of watching new lives take wing.

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It has been a few weeks since then. The pair keep coming with their sharp pointed beaks carrying food, mostly some insect remains and dropping them into the nest. There is no sound or heads to be seen inside the nest from where we are watching (a feet away inside the house and not disturbing them). But for sure there are tiny tots in there as evidenced by the heaving of the nest at times. Tiny lives being fed regularly and watched over.

Once dusk drops the cover, all is quiet but till then the pair almost bring the neighbourhood down with their sharp calls. More so, when one goes missing!

I am drawing from human comparisons in imagining it was the female today who went on an agitation, chirping in non-stop calls to the missing partner. Perhaps the playful Lothario had given the slip to chase another birdie! Seeing that tailor birds are common in India.

Nevertheless, the bird calls went on for 20 minutes and as I watched the little one hop from tree to tree, calling out fervently, my heart ached. My soul was soothing the tiny creature’s stressed throat and I was praying that the errant partner come back fast.

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In some time, he was back and all was quiet again.

As I wait for a glimpse of the baby birds, I hope the cat in the street stays away. The nest is not beyond its reach but I am praying my dog’s presence will keep it at bay. I have tried slipping a few seeds, rice and even a dead bee close to the nest, but no takers. Either the parents haven’t seen it or it just doesn’t qualify for their brood.

Days pass. In frenzied activity that humans have mastered. I stop now and then by the window to check on the big day when a few tiny birds take their first steps into the world.  What joy it is.

 

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IMG_20151011_141529The central government continues to be taken to task for everything it does. It could be the beef ban picking up in BJP-ruled states or the human shield used by security forces in J&K. Let’s look at the cow first.

Why is a cow above other animals, cry out critics. Is this a democracy or an autocracy? Should the government prescribe diets? So on.

To me it is simple. And my view is more Buddhist than Hindu, so no pointing fingers please.

As long as we consume cow’s milk, eat butter, cheese and ghee, how can we kill and eat the provider? It is as unthinkable as eating one’s mother.

Yes, every life form must be respected be it a cow, tiger or toad. A civilised society does not require a government or court order giving a river its rights. It should know by default that rivers are life givers. Without them, we cannot hope to survive for long.

So, why should a cow be a holy cow? To the Hindus, the cow is revered as holy and bringing prosperity. They are a part of innumerable legends and myths in Hinduism, giving rise to the belief that nothing is worser than the killing of a cow. It is in this context the saffron brigade has imposed the ban on beef in many states. The logic being that in the land of the Hindu, the cow is sacred and must be protected.

Except in Kerala, where beef is largely consumed, the majority of Hindus in other states do not kill cows for meat.  This goes even for meat eating lot.

However, can one really place a ban and change eating habits of a sizeable population? Can bans based on religion work in a democracy? No. People have to make their decisions on what they eat. As long as beef is available in the market, consumers will want to eat it. As long as cows are sent for slaughter, there will be beef.

But where it makes sense is in the humanising of society, against slaughter of animals. All it requires is a visit to a slaughterhouse and watching the animal taken for the kill to turn many away from the act of eating meat. Can meat eaters instead take the knife themselves and kill what they deem necessary to eat? As one discussion online suggested, that should be allowed but organised slaughter of all animals disallowed. Not just cow.

Banning beef however is seen as being an act against the minorities, especially the Muslims who consume the meat a lot. Critics need to realise that as many if not more Hindus consume beef today in the cities. So, can the ban be termed non-secular?

I was witness to a particularly sad scene recently while on a visit of villages. In one village, a cow had just given birth but much to the disappointment of the owner, it was a male calf. I happened to see the newborn still covered in placenta, try to stand up but fall each time. The mother stood nearby mooing pathetically. Both were tied and separated. The reason was that the calf was male and destined to the goshala or beef market very soon. The farmer will milk the productive cow and place a bit of the milk for the calf to consume, not allow it to suckle! Industrial cattle rearing happening at a small scale. Or rather, unnatural cattle rearing where the cows are artificially inseminated every few months. And not even allowed to go near its calf!

Utterly inhumane. The cow has still to go through the pain of calf birth but not the joy of being a mother. After all, we have hijacked this mother whose milk we all drink, while its calf watches from a distance.

Ban all organised slaughter. Ban all unnatural cattle rearing. Ban cruelty. What a mirage!

 

 

 

 

 

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Schools must have a counsellor who makes it a point to talk to the students rather than wait for them to come. Left to them, no child will feel the need to go talk to someone but when the person approaches them and talks, taps can run for hours.

At a recent programme conducted by a community development NGO, I was witness to school children chattering non-stop to their elder peers, medicos. In the one-to one that took place, many children evinced surprise and joy that someone wanted to talk to them and know things about them!

Sore pointer to times when no parent has time for talk. Blame it on gadgets or simply a fast-paced life, fact remains. No one is talking in most homes. Instead, the television is running and inmates are busy communicating with people not present there. No wonder one young teenager said so happily after the event, “Nobody has shown interest in my life and what I like to do!”

Another survey conducted among students studying for professional courses turned up quite a few results in which the respondent said bleakly of not feeling loved by anyone!

As our world turns more and more outwards and distant, bringing remote and exotic places and lives to our homes, the fascination with technology binds everyone across all ages. Advance of technology cannot be halted as many experts have warned. But it is up to us to direct its use.

Even more important is the need to train our younger generations to look inwards for peace and joy. Give them a glimpse of the unlimited joy within so that they do not go seeking that from the outside world. So that they do not need affirmation from outside. So that they do not take away their lives based on poor performance as judged by the world.

A holistic education where each child is acknowledged for his/her gifts is the need of the hour. And a real person who can talk to them and encourage them and console them. It is a fragile age.

 

 

 

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A BBC video on Planet Earth was shared on facebook. Fascinating and deadly it showed how a pack of lions hunted a giraffe in a desert somewhere south of the Sahara in the Dark Continent. The predators having marked out their prey set out on a chase, the tallest animal on the planet galloped for its life. The gangly creature was responding to a threat to its existence. But the pack of four or five lions had spread out in such a way to trap the poor animal.

Now what happened you can find here.

But my question is this: how did the lions get their act together? Did they plan it all together before sighting their prey? Marking where each would position itself? One in short point, another on silly point, another in the slip and so on. Did the first one shake her head towards the right asking the second to head that way? Never saw any such communication.

From lions to birds. Ever watched a couple at building nest? There is no chatter, no directions given, just silent teamwork that goes so much in sync. And lo! presto the home is ready for the little ones.

How do these creatures get it right without much ado, where we humans make a song and dance and fight over trivials? A simple thing like an unmanned traffic signal with the lights off are an example of our intransigence on all things big and small. Forget modern life scenarios where a couple plan and plan when they finally decide to have a baby! The whole natural act becomes so contorted and difficult.

Is it that we once had it all and lost it down the way? In the days when our ancestors roamed Africa and ventured further out like true explorers? Perhaps they hunted much like the lions and built the flintstone homes like the birds. And then suddenly something happened. Humankind lost it.

And now we are headed to some other place it seems. With bits of chips inserted here and there, humans will be more than flesh and bones in the next century according to Israeli historian Yuval Harari who writes in his book Homo Deus of the bionic human on the anvil.. Despite the complete power over the world, we seem to be no more satisfied than the stone age man, he notes. Scaringly he says you cant stop technology and a better job to address would be to see how this technology is best used. Get to know yourself better, says the historian who is happy with his meditation.

Know yourself. Bring peace within and it will reflect in the world around. Every individual can make a big contribution this way, as our seers have said.

Come a circle and reclaim our true selves. Can we?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It is the time of my life when I am being bombarded to be mindful. A book my friend gave me, ‘Full catastrophe living’ by Jon Kabat-Zinn addresses stress with mindfulness. A naturopathy yoga workshop online asks me to eat mindfully, observe mindfully, walk mindfully…

This is the moment. The only moment we have. Not the one behind or the one ahead. it is so easy to acknowledge, but difficult to live it. Constantly we are thinking of some moment ahead or past even as we are at work in offices or homes. Even when engrossed at work, ti is not exactly being mindful because most times we are doing things mechanically, without being aware of what we do.

I realised how difficult it is to sit and eat a fruit or bowl of rice slowly. The constant background music playing is ‘that needs to be done, i must ask S about that, did i pay R’ and before I know the pace of eating has gone back to normal stuffing and gobbling.

Doing things slowly, and consciously, is so so difficult. Though it is really very simple. Because of our habits! The deceleration can even bring a headache.

But I have begun to see the fruits of this labour. Whether it be in doing a body scan from head to toe, or in walking slowly but deliberately, aware of every part of the body, or in relishing nature’s bounty in a water melon, there is joy. Also in the act, like a child learning to walk, and also in being present fully.

I suddenly find I hardly need a roti or two to fill my stomach. I begin to relate to forgotten parts of the body while stretching and observing. And for some reason, there is a thrilling joy in these moments.

It is akin to decluttering a room. Keeping the mind free of thoughts and staying alert and alive this moment. Like a bird or bat that takes a nap and stays alert lest it fall down.

It is time to go slow perhaps. To stop thinking the world would collapse if I did not worry or do my bit. It is  time to enjoy being and the immense power that comes with being at peace.

Nothing really matters but to live in this moment. I am almost there, not fully yet.

 

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The dust has kind of settled and the victim could be the winner here. Director Sanjay Leela Bhansali may well be laughing over an assured audience for his film Padmavati, still in gestation, after all the controversy it has generated.

It was on Jan 27 that members of the Karni Sena, a Rajput group ransacked the sets of the film in Jaipur, assaulting Bhansali and damaging equipment. Their opposition was to the alleged ‘romantic’ depiction of a Rajput queen with emperor Alauddin Khilji in the film.

Since then, all reports  claim that there was no such scene planned, though the film is based on an apparent epic poem Padmavat revolving around Khilji’s attack on Chittor, attracted as he was by legends of the queen’s beauty.

Protests by Bollywood and intellectuals have raised the bogey of freedom of expression, creative licence and intolerance. Padmavati was a fictional queen in the 16th century poem Padmavat, written in Awadhi by the Sufi poet, they note, arguing that the film be treated as fiction.

True, but Khilji was no fiction, say the critics. And call her by any name, a Rajput queen is a Rajput and the opposition stems around linking any Rajput queen to a foreign marauder. Even the poem only talks of a one-sided urge to possess, rather than love or romance. Hence any romantic angle is further distortion of a fiction!

Sections of the society today also note that Khilji was no lesser or greater an evil than any invader, or even some of the existing Indian kings who vied with each other and killed each other and usurped kingdoms and wives. So why measure a Khilji or a Timur by a different scale?

Critics then dig up ‘facts’ to show that some invaders are more brutal and knew no limits in their barbarism and treachery. The second in the Khilji Sultandom, Alauddin who reigned from 1296 to 1316 was one such, they say.

Among all this, one thing that stands out is how few historians India seems to have, seeing how media reports feature the same one or two repeatedly. And they always have the same view. How can that be when a large part of understanding history lies in the interpretation?

As things stand, it is not clear what exactly the script has. If, in fact it portrays a ‘gentle’ side to Khilji or not, if there is a romantic scene between the invader and the queen, etc. Best to wait and watch the film. A victory to Bhansali right there as detractors and friends will want to check it out.

Do we need these cultural defenders is yet another aspect of the incident. Groups like the Kranti Sena or the KKK in the US do not rise on their own but do so to fill a gap perceived by society. An exploitation of the sentiments of the majority is often cited in India and is acknowledged by all but media and intellectuals.

The defenders of culture are on the rise whether they seek to protect Rajput pride or fight a desi bull! And they do not listen to reason. Blame it on perceptions or otherwise of marginalisation.

Regarding Indian commercial cinema and how it continues to flirt with controversy a la distortion of history, we need to look at some definitions.

First, popular cinema. Is it meant for entertainment, or education, inspiration or reflection on society? Or as an agent provocateur? All that and also a form of art that becomes the expression of the artistes involved, director included. Can this expression be unrestrained?

As a filmmaker, the search is on to look at new and different ways to capture viewership and of course, make money. A love story between a Rajput king and queen becomes passe. Requirements of box office demand more. Now what can be more provocative to take up in these ‘intolerant’ times than the romantic embroilment of a ‘foreign invader’ and a native queen? After all, there is the Article 19.

Freedom of expressing anything?

Article 19 of the Indian Constitution says: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” But this is not an absolute right.

Clause (2) of Article 19 imposes restrictions on the right by cautioning on public order and defamation (injuring reputation). This again can be contested as reputation is an ambiguous word, meaning different things to different people. In this case, can falling in love, albeit with a villain, be seen as ill repute? Not in a general case but given the legendary fidelity upheld by Rajput queens, not to forget sati, a love affair of a married queen with a barbaric person of a different community and religion, is to many people an affront.

Second comes the question of creative licence which allows artists to morph aspects of fact suitably. It is well accepted that many great playwrights and authors were inspired by history, but not controlled by it. That is where the difference comes between a biography and a story ‘based on actual events’. In the latter, characters and events could be deleted or added from historical facts.

Recall how Gowariker called his Jodha Akbar 80 pc fiction and 20 pc history. That controversy shook the country on a relatively lower scale as the difference of opinion was merely based on whether Jodha was Akbar’s wife or his son’s.

It is ironical and also wrought with mischievous intent that filmmakers want to draw mileage out of a ‘real event’ and then want to distort it. Instead, why not make the whole thing fictional?

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It brings to mind a television serial that took another historical figure and shaped his story into one straight from Game of Thrones! I allude to Chakravarti Ashok Samrat on Colours channel last year.

To my mind, the emperor is truly Ashoka, the Great. Both as a fearless ruler of the vast Maurya dynasty, as well as the propagator of Buddhism inside and outside India. I lapped up the words of H G Wells in The Outline of History, where he says, ‘Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Ashoka shines, and shines, almost alone, a star.’

The big celluloid version from Santosh Sivan and starring superstar SRK as Asoka had been a romantic version of the king, focussing on an fictional love story between the prince and a princess from an enemy kingdom.  The television serial I had expected would fill in the gaps, especially the Buddhist influence on Ashoka.

But sadly it stretched across the months portraying plots, treacheries and more plots! Queens, princes, ministers, all took turns in aligning with each other and plunging the knife into rivals. Tears, treachery, assassination bids…

All this was the imaginative filling of historical gaps by the writer, and expected. Most of what we know today about Ashoka is what has been interpreted by various historians of the emperor’s inscriptions on pillars and rocks, besides the three texts – Ashokavadana, Divyavadana and Mahavamsa.

But the television serial was happy to settle for a mundane plot around a good guy versus multitude of baddies. The story of the country’s greatest emperor, who ruled during 265-238 BC over three decades and across the entire landscape, save the present-day Tamil Nadu and Kerala, was turned into just another soap story.

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And when the actors dropped out and the channel had a mythology slated next, Ashoka was ended abruptly with the last episode hurriedly glossing over the life-changing Kalinga massacre and a sorrowful Ashoka clutching his slain lover. A voice in the background ran a quick line or two on his subsequent transformation.

Licence to distort

True, history is as much open to the imagination of a filmmaker to interpret it as of the historian’s. No historian can ever be 100 percent accurate when talking of events hundreds or thousand years ago. There are some gaps which will beg subjective fillings.

In an effort to entertain (and make money) can commercial movies and soaps play to the gallery entirely? Is there no obligation on the part of the movie or serial maker to stick to at least some basic presumptions? In making a historical figure relatable in today’s times,  can all rules be bent? Is it ok to make army chieftain Bajirao dance to a contemporary fast number? Have your item song but at least let Bajirao be seated. Why the need to base the story on history if the aim is just to sell the usual masala fare — of jealous husband, cheating wives and wicked siblings?

The print and visual news media has long ago cast away any semblance of social responsibility in joining the information rat race. The entertainment media has been shedding the same in its choice and way of handling ‘real’ events. In the resulting free for all, what we often see is anger and bitterness among the masses, both expressed and suppressed. Not the upliftment which an unfettered freedom of expression ideally should usher. Clearly, we still are not ready for that.

When media wields such range and influence over people, it must apply restraint in the way it portrays historical characters. This is not just about respecting sections of society but also being responsible in handling facts. Today, with social media whipping up mass frenzy over trivial issues, sometimes even spreading lies, it is even more necessary that story tellers get their facts and sensibilities right before mixing it with fiction and selling it as entertainment.

And not spoil the fun of history for us folks!

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A social media provoked syndrome i have been noticing is the sudden surge of interest in everyone to reconnect with school friends after 30-40 years! Why social media, is because it is my analysis that these days we all tend to catch up with the Raos and Murthys through whatsapp. What the rest of the world is doing becomes an imperative in our lives.

Everyone i know, almost, is meeting up with school friends and planning reunions and then re-reunions and more. It set me thinking — what is the attraction? Is it nostalgia? Is it an attempt to feel young? Or is it about gathering more and more ‘friends’?

Many in the school groups we meet were almost unknown to us back then, besides being a familiar face. But now everyone is a good friend. Even those we kept away from or had unpleasant perceptions about. Even those who scorned us or kept us out of their elite groups.

So, why this sudden newfound love to embrace all? Is it a part of growing up, facing life’s serves adroitly, surviving the turbulent seas and looking kindly on foes and friends alike? Or is it some fear of the approaching end that draws us to cling on to childhood days and surround ourselves with folks who take us back into the past? Kindred souls aged like us, with similar pains in joints and back, who give us a feeling of safety in the herd?

I for one am not sure. I did miss one or two good friends from school, having totally cut off links when our family shifted. There were times I wondered where he/she was and doing what, turned into what kind of person, wished I could catch up… But beyond that, there was no longing to reach back. Yes, I keep having dreams of being seated at the bench in classroom listening to a teacher. Of favourite places in the campus, and some events, mostly fictitious. I have often yearned to go back and sit in those benches again.

Now that I too have reconnected with my school group (National English High School, now the infamous NPS), I find myself among unknown friends. I know their names and can connect their faces. I can remember some who were mischief mongers, some who were kind, some who were studious. I remember one girl with whom I used to have such silly fights, over what I do not remember.

But nothing more. Perhaps I was a boring student or a quiet one which is why I did not share thoughts much with many.

So why am I going to a wedding of a classmate’s daughter tomorrow?

For one, I was invited and I am not rude. And then, there is a curiosity to check out what they have turned out into. Beyond that, I am not very sure. What do reunions hold? Hearing more stories – happy ones and sad too. More experiences. Maybe meet a few soul mates I had missed out back then in dismissing as snooty or uncaring? Maybe a few who will not want to check the state of my bank balance or relationships, or give measuring head to toe looks, but simply welcome one more individual.

Perhaps there are lessons to learn from these new old friends. There always are. As Richard Bach says in Illusions, everyone in our lives are there because we have drawn them to us for some reason, something to teach or learn.

So why not smile at the guy behind the counter at the bank reading your favourite author and start a friendship? Or the grocery shop owner with similar music taste? Or that kindly woman at the park where you go walking?

Why hark back to 30 or 40 years and seek folks  you have no clue about? Simply because you shared classrooms and listened to the same teachers? Does it make sense to ‘add’ friends in a life so rushed already? Another name and number in the phone. Am I being a cynical introvert?

I still am clueless but believe that social media is the culprit. It seems the in-thing to meet up with school friends. I too am going and for now it is nostalgia time for me. Let me check out if I can turn back the clock and become a wide-eyed, joyous 13-something again. There is something so luring about childhood when one had no cares and the world seemed to be perfect. Let me try relive that…

 

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