Category Archives: India Unveiled

a tiny and tantalizing glimpse into the cultures and traditions of my homeland.

Milan (A Wedding Story) 3A: Indecision

Chap 2

Chap 3 A: Indecision

—o—

Continuing from where I left off 🙂

“Mili?…” Jai ventured at the dinner table, not having had the opportunity to converse with his daughter all day. For after the guests had left, she had locked herself up in her room until  her mother had finally coaxed her out for a bite. But she hadn’t tasted her meal…, just pushed the food around her plate for the past half hour.

She stood up, “I think I’ll turn in. It’s been a long day. Good night.”

“But beta (child) we have to talk…” Jai’s voice trailed off when he saw Mili disappear down the corridor without even a glance back. He looked askance at his wife, who was watching the proceedings with a discerning smile on her face.

“Kiran…we really do need to talk to her…”

“Our daughter is confused. Consider it a good sign.” She said, placing a reassuring hand on her husband’s.

`

Mili turned the TV off and tossed the remote away frustrated. Watching documentaries usually helped her fall asleep but not tonight. Her mind refused to distract itself from the topic of Ahaan. He had made it all so difficult.

She was indeed quite confused.  It was not black and white anymore. She couldn’t just pick up the phone and say no to him.

Why? Because she didn’t want to hurt him? Because she cared about how he felt? Did it mean that her feelings for him had undergone a drastic change or was it because they had been silly and unrealistic to begin with… A product of an immature adolescent mind. He had never really done anything to incur such animosity from her. His behavior had always been exemplary.

Perhaps mother is right. I victimized him because he was different and his silence made him easy prey. I acted like a cruel child, and he took it all quietly. Even now he bears no malice towards me whatsoever.

Mili was overtaken by tremendous guilt. I should apologize and tell Ahaan that I am not worthy of him.

Swinging her legs off the bed, she walked up to where her sitar rested. She picked it up and began playing absently. Her fingers flew up and down the instrument effortlessly, playing a favorite tune of their own accord.

‘I dabble in a little guitar myself…’

Mili smiled… ‘Dabble’ in Mr TOI’s vocabulary would equal a significant degree of proficiency. She could picture Ahaan strumming expertly on his guitar. Perhaps we could even do a Jugalbandi together, a musical east-west fusion.

No! What am I thinking? That could never be… A frown of distress marred her clear brow.

Placing her beloved instrument aside, she picked up the phone and dialed her elder sister’s number, but then changed her mind immediately.

No.. Sheela di (elder sister) will tell me to be obedient and submit to whatever mama and papaji decide because they know best,  Mili mused, recalling the events of four years ago when her sister had complied with Grandpa’s wishes and wedded his best friend’s young nephew, just because he had given him his word. She had quit her studies and had not uttered even a single word of complaint just because the family honor was at stake. It was a different matter altogether that Rohan Jiju (brother in law) had turned out to be the perfect match for her.

She opted to call her best friend Annie instead.

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Musafir : Darwaze

Gateway to the Taj Mahal

A corridor in Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri

Balcony, Humayun’s Tomb,Delhi

Smiles

 

Darwaze, khidkiyaan, jharokhe, verandey

Kitni khoobsurat 

Hain ye imaartein

Inhe dekho

Suno

Samjho

Socho

Jano

Kuch keh rahi hain ye

Tumse

Rough translation: (Doors, windows, details, so beautiful, are these buildings, look at them, listen, understand, think, learn, they are speaking to you)

What can I say, but I’m fascinated and inspired by buildings, and people around buildings. That’s why I’m a musafir. Kindly excuse me for my very poor Urdu and Hindi poetry skills.

Glossary:

Darwaza: Urdu for door; Khidki: Hindi for window; Jharokha: An overhanging enclosed balcony used in Rajasthani architecture; Khoobsurat: Urdu for beautiful; Imaarat: Urdu for building; Dekho: Hindi for look; Suno: Hindi for listen; Socho: Hindi for think; Jano: Hindi for learn

 

Women Who Inspire: Anandibai Joshi

Anandibai Joshi

Dr. Anandibai Joshi (1865-1887)

Indian women pioneered many things not just in India but also in the west becoming a source of inspiration for women and women’s movement across the world. Early in my residency and sometimes even now, I’m made to perceive that I’m not good enough to be a doctor just because I’m a woman. Once an elderly lady told me to my face that she’d prefer a male doctor to do her gynecological exam. I was stunned to comprehend the degree of prejudice women have to face particularly those in the fields of science. So when I read about Anandibai Joshi and women like her, I’m dumbfounded by their bravery and the degree of resistance they had to overcome.

Anandibai Joshi was among the first Indian women qualified to practice western medicine.

Dr. Joshi belonged to an orthodox Brahmin family of rich landlords in Kalyan. At the tender age of nine she was pressured to marry a widower, a man twenty years her senior Gopalrao Joshi. The beginning of a typical Indian story? No. Anandibai was just thirteen when she had her first child.Unfortunately the child died when he was just ten days old. She was heartbroken and angered to realize that her son would have survived if he had received proper medical care. This sparked in her the desire to study medicine and her liberal husband stood fully behind her.

Why would an Indian woman go so far away for medical school?

Because it was the best way to serve her country was the gist of Anandibai’s answer. The reason Anandibai had to look to the west is because in India, Hindu women, particularly those belonging to higher castes were not welcome in the profession.They were pushed to become midwives instead. If they insisted they could enroll in Chennai, to be taught by reluctant male instructors, and receive an incomplete training. It was easier if they converted to Christianity as they could wear a dress and that wouldn’t cause a scandal. Since Anandibai and her husband had no desire to convert, she decided to turn to the America. She applied with the assistance of Presbyterian missionaries. She enrolled and subsequently received her degree in 1886, from the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania. Her achievement was lauded, to the extent the dean of her school wrote about it to Queen Victoria, Empress of India. Anandibai was invited to become the physician-in-charge of the women’s department at the Albert Edward Hospital in the princely state of Kolhapur, where she also had the opportunity to instruct women medical students. Unfortunately, before she could embark triumphantly in her career, it was destroyed by the diagnosis of tuberculosis and she breathed her last in the arms of her mother, a month before her 22nd birthday.

Dr. Anandibai Joshi lived a very short life but she achieved a lot. She broke barriers not just for women but also for the Hindu community. Even now we can look to her life and gain strength and inspiration.This is a fight which will go on until we get what we want–what we deserve–equality.

 

The Story of Holika

Prahlad, Holika, 13 the century Keshava temple

On the very auspicious occasion of Holi- the ‘festival of colors’ where we welcome Spring and smear each other with color while saying “Bura na mano, holi hai” (Don’t mind, its holi) I’d like to share the story behind the festival.

There are some wonderful stories in the Puranas and one of them is about Holika. 

Hiranyakashipu

Hiranyakashipu,was the king of the daityas, a clan of the asuras (danavas or divine beings with an evil quality who are always at war with the suras or benevolent devas). His brother Hiranyaksha, had been killed by Lord Vishnu, in his Varaha (boar) avatar.  Thus angered, he wanted to with gain immortality. He performed years of penance and obtained a boon from Lord Brahma that he couldn’t be killed by human or animal; indoors or outdoors; during day or night; and no weapon could bring him harm. Hence he became arrogant and believed himself to be the mightiest, more than all the devas and even Vishnu, the Supreme Being himself. He commanded everyone to pray to him and regard him as their supreme lord. But his son Prahlad, did not. Right from when he was born, Prahlad remained a devout follower of Vishnu and wouldn’t be convinced otherwise. This irked Hiranyakashipu so much that he decided to kill his own son. But all his attempts were thwarted by the mystical powers of Vishnu. One of these is the story behind Holi.

Holika was Hiranyakashipu’s sister, who had been given the boon that fire couldn’t harm her. Thus, she sat in a burning pyre with Prahlad on her lap but Vishnu intervened. A strong breeze removed her protective cloth and draped Prahlad instead; protecting him while Holika was charred. A few other theories exist– one states that Holika was actually good and sacrificed herself to save Prahlad while another says that the boon was granted on condition Holika wouldn’t use it to harm anyone. Regardless, the story symbolizes the victory of good over evil as does the festival. On the first day, Holika dahan (Choti (small) Holi) is performed and people gather and burn bonfires at crossroads. The ash from the pyre is then smeared on the forehead.

Holika Dahan

The following day is the more well known colorful or Rangwali Holi, when everyone forgetting all differences smear each other with colored powder. ENJOY! HAPPY HOLI!

Jai Hind!

“The appointed day has come —the day appointed by destiny—and India sets forth again, after long slumber and struggle, awake, vital, free and independent.” Jawaharlal Nehru on the eve of India’s Independence, towards midnight on 15th August, 1947.

The above quote holds true even now, not just for India but the entire world.

Happy 71st Independence Day dear friends! 

 

Deepawali Greetings!

god-ganesh-at-diwali-festival

Wishing all my friends near and far A VERY HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS DEEPAWALI!

Just as on this day Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasura and rid the world of fear, let the light of knowledge rid the darkness of ignorance from our hearts and minds.

 On an aside what I like more about this story is that Krishna took his wife Satyabhama along.  She was one stubborn woman and a bold one too. She helped Krishna kill Narakasura 🙂

narakasura2bvadh

Happy 70th! What ails my country?

indian independence day

I wish A Very Happy 70th Independence Day to all my fellow Indian brothers and sisters 🙂 On this momentous occasion I’d like to briefly discuss about what ails India and Indians in general. It is not meant as a criticism but as an opportunity to reflect.

Its inertia. 

Yes that’s what it is. We are so used to a life of drudgery that we have no desire to get out of it. Its become a way of life for us. We are so used to corruption and handing out bribes for every little thing that we can’t envision a life without it. Like my father (rest his soul) used to say whenever he happened to visit a government office armed with a few thousand rupees and then proceed to dole them out incrementally starting from the peon to the officer in charge: “You have to or the job won’t get done.”

People are lackadaisical. They will stand around and stare at a dying man on the street and observe a helpless girl as she gets harassed by a bunch of goons but they won’t step in to help. Why? Because its a tamasha. A spectacle like that which unfolds in a movie theater. Why buy trouble?

And we have lost our voice that independence provided us. We feel empathy, shake our heads with regret but we don’t speak when we need to.

But all is not lost. Right now I feel a new India in my veins. We are waking up and perhaps realizing that the bonds that held us down for so long are old and rusty. They can be broken. Freedom is not a fairytale. It is a reality. Jai Hind!

Jugaad–Innovation the Indian Way!

jugaad6

Necessity is the mother of invention. This is no more true in India where the lack of resources and the unquenchable aspirations of the common citizens prompts them to come up with ingenuous and often insane inventions. Here is a tiny sampling 🙂

jugaad 8

No electricity required- ‘Mitti fridge’ (a refrigerator made all of clay)

jugaad 7

jugaad 6

jugaad5

jugaad3

jugaad2

Calcutta for the Soul

howrah bridge

It’s said that memories fade with time, which is probably a good thing, because some of us would find it impossible to go on. But there are certain reminiscences that cannot afford to be forgotten. They are like precious keepsakes that need to be extracted from the dusty realms of time. They have to be caressed and fondled with affection, reinforced and perhaps refurbished, before being tucked away securely again.

One such memory that I’ve guarded fiercely is that of my trip to Calcutta. Over the years it has been revisited a million times and imbued with subtle nuances so to add color and character.

I was perhaps ten or twelve (my mother stresses on the latter and she is probably right as I’m pathetically poor with specifics). The trip would never have come about hadn’t it been for my father, who after one of his numerous travels brought back an exquisite Bengal handloom sari of olive green and cream. It became my favorite. My mother looked lovely in it. He also spoke of a land rich in culture that had produced the likes of Rabindranath Tagore, Vivekananda, Satyajit Ray and of course the indomitable Kishore Da. Armed with a miniscule amount of information and barely suppressed curiosity, I embarked on my sole journey to the east, with my tiny family in tow.

bengal saree

We boarded the Coromandel Express which I believe covered the distance from Chennai to Howrah in little more than a day. My very first recollection of the place that endeared it to me forever is the memory of delicious, melt-in-your-mouth, spongy roshogollas in clay handis (pots) that I relished with gusto right on the railway platform. I swear, I haven’t had anything more delectable in my life!

rasgulla-12

We stayed in a cosy guest house favored by the bank my father worked for. It was winter time; I know because I could see my breath in front of my face and the owners’ little white Pomeranian had a sweater on. There were pleasant smiles everywhere and though I didn’t have a clue about what was being spoken, I didn’t mind listening because the words floated in the air like the melodious strains of Lord Krishna’s flute.

On our first day out, I recall seeing trams loaded with commuters, coursing on tracks right in the middle of the street. Having never come across anything similar before, either in Delhi or Chennai, I of course wanted a ride.

We did the usual touristy things. I remember gawking awestruck at the magnificent Dakshineshwar temple glistening in the morning light on the banks of the Hooghly; then trying to battle through the mad melee at Kalighat which had my mother utterly riled up and me dumbfounded and overwhelmed.

Dakshineswar-Temple-kolkata-2097316

The Victoria Memorial came as a welcome respite; more so the calm serenity of the Botanical Gardens that also touts the world’s largest Banyan tree.

the_great_banyan_tree_03

I remember the distinct tang of mustard oil in the air and spending a lazy afternoon strolling the lanes of New Market absorbing the banter of many tongues, the fragrance of fresh flowers, resisting the lure of jewelry and garments, and the calls of hawkers and shopkeepers selling anything and everything from furniture to fish.

Christmas_and_bongs_in_new_market_kolkata

The city pulsed with life, from am to night- an eclectic and intoxicating blend of culture, beauty, intellect, relationships and raw emotions. I left feeling thoroughly confused but lastingly intrigued.
So here are my experiences; trivial they may seem but to me they are dearly cherished because they are what I remember my father by– simple, adventurous and carefree.

The Beautiful Art of Kolam

kolam 2

Kolam is an age old tradition in Southern India. These are temporary geometric designs consisting of curved loops drawn around a grid of dots employing rice flour/chalk/chalk flour or oher types of white or colored powders. Female members of Hindu families draw Kolams in the front of their houses. These are also known as Rangolee in Maharastra, Hase in Karnataka, Muggulu in Andhra Pradesh and Golam in Kerala.

While living in Chennai, I have watched with fascination my mother along with several other women on our street, drawing a fresh new Kolam every morning. This would be done after cleaning the floor with a broom and then with water. They would draw what appeared to be very complex designs in a jiffy, sometimes without lifting their hands off the floor. During the day the Kolams would get eroded by people’s feet, and the wind. But not to worry. A new one replaced it the following morning.

As always these Kolums are not just decorative. They have a cultural sginificance. They are meant to bring prosperity to the house and are symbols of welcome as well. There are many other purposes, but the following is what I found particularly endearing and is probably also true. In days of yore rice flour Kolams were drawn so the ants did not have to travel too far for food. They also attracted small birds and likewise other small creatures, hence welcoming other forms of life into the home and everyday life symbolizing harmony and peaceful coexistance with nature.

Below are a few Kolam designs drawn by my cousin and her friends 🙂

kolam 3

kolam 4

kolam 5

kolam 7