Category Archives: India Unveiled

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

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!

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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 🙂

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Happy 70th! What ails my country?

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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!

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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 🙂

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

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Calcutta for the Soul

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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 🙂

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Happy Republic Day!

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On January 26th, 1950, India adopted its own constitution and officially became an independent republic. Today, when our most fundamental right of Freedom is being threatened, let us all get together, not just Indians but global citizens of the world, and celebrate this very important day and determine to fight against all those forces who wish to snatch away what we hold most precious from us.

HAPPY REPUBLIC DAY! 

ind_constitution_premble_orgThe preamble of The Constitution of India

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First Republic Day Parade in 1950

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The Indian Tricolor setting the skies ablaze.

 

You are invited to The Wedding of The Year!

Milan- wedding invite

Yes! You are invited to the wedding of Mili Bharadwaj and Ahaan Kapoor! 

Please join me as they prepare for their life together in my 3rd book—

MILAN (A Wedding Story)

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Milan meaning in Hindi ‘a coming together’—a beautiful story of a traditional arranged marriage that transforms into a real life fairytale, set in the quaint hilltown of Coonoor in the lush Nilgiris (blue hills) in South India.

You will also learn about Hindu marriage rituals, the many colorful traditions as well as sample India’s sumptuous cuisine. Come join me as I embark on this journey. You will not be disappointed. 🙂

BUY IT TODAY ON THE FOLLOWING LINKS:

Amazon.com

Amazon.in

Amazon.uk

Amazon.au

Amazon.ca

‘Homesick’ Excerpt from ‘Inconvenient Relations’

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Excerpt

Standing in front of the large bathroom mirror, Ruhi combed her long thick hair. Should I leave it loose or braid it? Should I put on makeup or go bare? Should I wear all my bangles or just a couple of them? So many questions! Why don’t all men come with a user guide.

She braided her hair, glossed her lips, chose a pair of gold bangles for each side, and figured she was done. Then she offered a silent prayer, thanking God for the absence of her mother-in-law.

Tea and breakfast.

What? Herbal raspberry tea bags and Cheerios! And this man expects me to eat? Her spirits taking a dive, she put her head down on the table and mournfully longed for a piping hot refreshing cup of masala chai with cauliflower stuffed paratha on the side…Mama!

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“Still off in neverland?”

She sat up, startled, to gaze dolefully at him while he smiled cheerfully at her, looking handsome and crisp in casual white shirt and jeans. Why was she always at a disadvantage?

“Care for some hot pizza?” He swept a large colorful cardboard box in front of her nose. “Authentic Neapolitan from our very own Tony’s. My favorite!”

She didn’t care for it, too cheesy.

He frowned at her while she pursed her lips together feeling helpless.

“This is crazy! If you don’t eat, you will disappear in no time. Then there wouldn’t be anything left to send back home!”

She glared at him acutely hurt. They had just reached here, and he was already thinking of sending her back home? What did he take her for?

“I guess I’m homesick.”

“Ah! I see. How stupid of me! Your parents must be terribly worried!”

Getting up immediately, he dialed her home; and yes, they were in a state of panic.Hearing their voices, she nearly broke down…wanting to reach out and touch the loose end of her mother’s sari.

Accha. All right, I shall hang up now,” she said and handed him the phone, just as a tear threatened to roll down her cheek. She rushed to the window—the purple flowers had taken on a silver hue.

***

Imagine how much a new Indian bride has to deal with—

A husband who is practically a stranger, in-laws—and if she is accompanying him to a foreign land; new living conditions, new culture, and a new way of life.

As someone who has been through a similar experience I can tell you the task is not easy. These are the times when memories of home hurt the most.

In my book ‘Inconvenient Relations’ I have through my protagonist Ruhi tried to elaborate on what it is like to be a new bride in a foreign land.

You can find out more about my books here. 

Glossary

Masala Chai: Spiced Indian tea. The spice usually consists of cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, black pepper, star anise and cloves.

Paratha: popular Indian flatbread prepared fresh from whole wheat dough, and served either plain or stuffed with a variety of vegetables like radish, cauliflower, potato, methi (fenugreek leaves) or paneer (fresh Indian cheese.)