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Milan (A Wedding Story) 3A: Indecision

Chap 2

Chap 3 A: Indecision

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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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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!

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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The Allure of the Sari and an excerpt from ‘The Accidental Wife’

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A sampling from my mother’s closet

The image of a woman wearing a sari conjures up both the remarkable beauty of women and the exquisite artistry of textile and embroidery. The sari is a garment created from a single piece of fabric five to nine yards long. Its ingenious design allows for wrapping around a woman’s body in different ways. This allows for a variety of effects: stunning traditional gown, alluring evening wear, or simple utilitarian work attire.

The thought of wearing a loosely draped strip of fabric might seem somewhat awkward to westerners. But consider the heat of a tropical climate and one realizes that this airy soft garment is a brilliant idea. No wonder 75% of women in India still wear the sari as a key element of their wardrobe.

The beauty of a woman in an Indian sari is breathtaking. How luscious life could be with a wardrobe filled with saris of vibrant colors and various fabrics adorned with embroidery. If you do a quick search on the internet of “sari images” you’ll see for yourself. One for example features fabrics of the richest jewel tone colors—turquoise blue set against fuchsia, green, royal blue—and embellished with flowers of gold.

While sometimes thought of as traditional attire, the sari has the power to transform a woman into a beguiling apsara (celestial nymph). Rihaan (our hero), in The Accidental Wife, has the opportunity to discover this for himself.

 Accidental Wife Book Cover

 Excerpt from The Accidental Wife 

But what Rihaan saw there brought an immediate diversion to his purpose—the image of his beautiful wife wrapped in a traditional sari. It was a simple yet clever garment worn with a dual purpose in mind—to please her in-laws by presenting them a vision of ideal domestic harmony, while simultaneously promising her husband never-ending conjugal bliss. The lure of the unstitched garment was such that it transformed his already beautiful wife into a beguiling apsara causing his nerve endings to release some kind of erotic pleasure juice thus making him slowly yet inexorably lose control over all his senses.

BUY ON AMAZON

Stop! Take your Shoes Off!

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Photo courtesy- franandwally.blogspot.com

The above scene isn’t uncommon in India or for that matter elsewhere in the world especially if you happen to drop by an Indian home. Why, you may ask do I have to remove my footwear before I enter your house?

Well, the explanation is simple. For us Indians, our house or home is a sacred place and to contaminate it by bringing dirt from outside is not just disrespectful, it is almost akin to sacrilege. And, if you happen to visit a temple you will be often expected to not just remove your footwear but also wash your feet before entering.

This is not necessarily a religious tradition. It is practiced across most communities in India and  as I discovered,  in many other countries of the world, including Asia, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, as well as some corners of Europe.

So the next time you happen to spy footwear outside a residence, you may want to remove yours too 🙂

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This tradition is mentioned in the PROLOGUE my book ‘INCONVENIENT RELATIONS‘ 

If you enjoyed this cultural nugget and wish to learn more, please join my Facebook group–

SIMI K. RAO READERS AND FRIENDS

Thank you!

Navratri- Celebration of the Divine Feminine

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Navratri  (in Sanskrit meaning Nine Nights) is the celebration of the feminine divine.  During this festival nine forms of Shakti or Devi are worshiped. She is the ultimate embodiment of creative energy and celebrating her is considered most auspicious. This is one of the most important festivals of the Hindus and is celebrated all over India and the opportunity arrives twice a year: in the beginning of spring and autumn.

Just as India is a land of many languages and cultures, the celebration of Navratri too takes various forms. In West Bengal, the last four days are celebrated as Durga Puja where exquisitely decorated life size clay dolls of the Goddess depicted as slaying the demon Mahisasura are set up and on the fifth day are immersed in the river.

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In Maharashtra and Gujarat, the festival is celebrated with the energetic Garba and Dandiya Raas dances.

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In South India steps are set up and decorated with dolls in an arrangement called Golu.

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The festival culminates in on the tenth day in Vijayadashami meaning ‘victory on the tenth day’ which refers to Lord Rama’s victory over the ten headed demon Ravana as well as that of Goddess Durga over the demon Mahisasura.

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Holi ‘The Festival of Colors’

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celebrating Holi in India (Courtesy National Geo)

When Holika burned, Good won over evil

When Krishna playfully colored Radha’s face, he ensured the purity of love

Holi invokes Spring, the genesis of new hope and relationships

Let’s celebrate it’s spirit and forget and forgive

HAPPY HOLI

Food- A Celebration

Saapaad

When the simple act of partaking food becomes a sacred event, one just doesn’t feed the stomach but feeds the soul.

A very good example is the traditional South Indian meal that is served on a banana leaf (biodegradable and lends a special flavor). The food is simple and wholesome, prepared from scratch, with love and devotion. The distinct aroma and flavors achieved by the correct blend of fresh spices such as  curry leaves, mustard seeds, coriander, ginger, garlic, chili, pepper, cinnamon,cloves, green cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, coconut and rosewater.

Whenever I travel back to my homeland, I have the pleasure of savoring such meals in the homes of my family members where tradition is still adhered to especially during festivals and formal occasions. The above picture shows a very basic South Indian vegetarian meal that consists of cooked white rice, banana chips,  lentil papadam (thin, crisp, disc shaped, deep fried appetizers), beetroot poriyal (vegetable),  savory lentil vada (fritter), yogurt and payasam (pudding made by boiling rice, cracked wheat or vermicelli with milk and sugar).

The wooden man is dressed in traditional South Indian attire of cotton dhoti (long loincloth) and angavastram (upper garment).