Archive for June, 2012

When Draupadi Speaks…

As one of the most significant characters in the Mahabharata, Draupadi has always fascinated me. Each time I read about her, I tried to decipher Mahabharata – and the events that follow – from her perspective. I also look for a more powerful and unique version of this character every time when reading about this fascinating woman.

Birth from the sacrificial fire

Birth from the sacrificial fire

Last month, I got the opportunity to read The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni as the book came to me as a gift from a dear colleague. The novel, narrated by Panchali – as she preferred to be addressed by that name – takes us back to a time that is partly history, partly mythology – the Mahabharata that is seen through her eyes. In just one word if I am asked to describe the book, I would say it’s ‘mesmerizing’.

In a sense, I believe, her birth itself is tragic, her story is complex. You cannot easily tag her as the archetypal “good and faithful wife” like that of a Sita or a Savitri. In the book, The Palace of Illusions, Panchali takes us to the journey to her special birth where she was born of the sacrificial fire, in which her father prayed for a son to support him in defeating his rival Drona – which means, she was born unwanted from the sacrificial fire.

Just like her unsolicited birth from the fire – followed by a lonely childhood at her father’s palace, throughout her journey, Panchali comes through as a woman of fierce independence – striving to balance her passions against her errands. Her wit and intelligence, matches to that of her ‘sakha’ or friend Krishna’s – which was a rare phenomenon and she was also gifted with questioning abilities and logic, unlike the passive woman. Even though she was forced into a polyandrous marriage (more so by her mother-in-law, who could have come to her rescue), she could not overcome her partiality for Arjuna, who won her hand – which is quite justified. But even though she loved Arjuna unconditionally, she remained a tragic queen for our hero had plenty of other relationships and showed great indifference towards her.

However, she had the resilience to strongly support her husbands’ even during their years in exile. Amidst her greatest humiliation at Dhritarashtra’s court, she had the strength to question the elders, about the very concept of their dharma, which nobody had the courage to.

In Divakaruni’s book, her devotion flanking on love for Lord Krishna came across in a very candid and hearty manner. The description of the battle, her secret approbation for Karna, the exile, the forbidding justice of war and finally a lonely death on the way to Mahaprasthana – have been depicted in a way that is simple and intriguing. A powerful, yet romantic and witty side of Draupadi come alive, which always remained unexplored.

For more than one reason, the author was successful in weaving a magical world of our greatest epic told from the point of view of Panchali, who will always remain a mystery, a controversy queen and never a role model like Sita in our society.

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The S Factor

The nineteenth letter of the alphabet has a magical effect on me and I can feel it over and over again. Of course my own name starts with the letter S, and your name is a powerful expression of who you are. But this letter implies a lot more things.

Simply inspiring!

Simply inspiring!

Just a couple of days back I read about the letter ‘S’ in numerology. It says that ‘S’ is the numerical equivalent of 19 that adds up to 1 + 9 = 10 or 1 and represents the “beginnings”.

It was a good read. It says: The letter S is one of the most powerful letters of the alphabet, and names beginning with this letter are the ‘movers and shakers’ of the world. They like to either run the show upfront, or pull the strings from above. They like control and are generally very sure of themselves. They are wonderful ‘actors’ in life and can put on the persona they wish for you to see. When S is the first vowel in a name, the person tends to be bold and courageous.

Names beginning with the letter S are trailblazers, torch-bearers, leaders, mentors – those who show others the way. They are idealistic visionaries who are aware of their own innate powers. The letter S is truthful, benevolent and intelligent. People with S as their initial are also very sensual, passionate and loving.

S it says genuinely spells success, spiritualism and the supreme. People having an ‘S’ factor are charismatic, warm and devoted, and yes, they almost always ‘inspire’ you.

This rings a bell… People who have often come across as inspirations in my life – from time to time – have an S factor in them. Mostly their names start with the letter ‘S’ – persons, books, cinema, events, etc.

I truly believe that one of the greatest desires of mankind is to get inspired and it is that ‘someone’ or ‘something’ that inspires us to be what we know we could be but may not even realise otherwise. So I thank my inspirational ‘S’s for showing me the way to think different.

Punctuate Your Life!

While simply helping my nephew revise a chapter on ‘Punctuations’ from his school grammar book, I just thought how my life would have been beyond “Full Stop” and other punctuation marks. It may sound whacky apparently. But get deeper into it and you would know what I’m talking about. It feels strange at times that life is a mere transcript full of familiar and unfamiliar metaphors and similes and we struggle to make it read like a perfect composition. Life would have been so very simple had we all come to this earth, just to live, work and die. But it’s not that simple actually…! That’s because we do not have the power to punctuate our lives wherever and whenever we wish to.

Can you add a comma or put a colon whenever you want to?

Can you add a comma or put a colon whenever you want to in life? Not really! Neither can we abridge every exclamation nor solve all the question marks in our lives, forget inserting a full stop wherever we want to.

But the irony remains that our lives naturally get punctuated! In fact, all our actions and thought processes are punctuated – by someone or something. And this is no nonsense. Think hard. Imagine the role speed breakers play in all our lives. Although several times we would have loved to move like a free flowing river, run like an untamed horse and go beyond our limits, how many of us could do that in reality? Very few – that something or someone stops us immediately!

You would find that after reaching certain age and starting to shoulder certain responsibilities (I realise it now being on the other side of ‘30s) these punctuations start to add a new dimension to your existence. There is a “check” in every aspects of life – be it in communicating our ideas, or in expressing our feelings and desire, and in the way we walk, talk and move – in other words, in our living itself.

And do we have the right to monitor these limits; rather can we break free from the societal norms? “No” or “rarely” is the answer for most of us. We simply leave it to fate or just do not give it a thought. But just think… every happening in life could have been so easily manipulated had there been no full stop.

Do I sound a little cynical? Not really. It is then that I started to think of the great change makers of this world. They do have the guts to punctuate their lives (in some ways or the other) to fight out their destiny and to be the change. They have the power to influence one’s surroundings and the confidence & perseverance to sustain with that change. It gives me enough courage to think of names like Michael Angelo, Rabindranath Tagore, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, Swami Vivekananda and other great souls, who are remembered not just for their wondrous creations or deeds… but because they chose their lives by their own will. A life not directed by any power or force.

So I write this piece with an inspirational message attached to it: Search for the genius in you and make a choice to live your way! Punctuate it and make your life the best read verse on the earth. With this I realise I have to put a full stop now. Oops!

A Betrayal Called Friendship!!!

My niece looked really upset. When I asked her what’s wrong, with a little hesitation she laments, “I feel betrayed by a close friend.” May be I was not prepared for her blunt reply and stood silent for a few seconds… helpless. I couldn’t say anything else… or rather didn’t know how to console her or to tell her it’s okay to move on. I thought all of these would be so silly!

Betrayal is a part of life though it’s never easy to deal with it, especially if the person concerned is a dear friend. My niece’s reaction saddened me, but I knew she is mature enough to deal with this herself and move on eventually.

Betrayal is a part of life though it’s never easy to deal with it

Betrayal is a part of life though it’s never easy to deal with it

Even though we keep telling ourselves ‘life is beautiful’ and that ‘we are so happy’ we know in our deepest of consciousness that may not be the reality. When we are betrayed by a close friend, a sibling or spouse for reasons, whatsoever, all hell breaks loose. Most of us I know have experienced some sort of betrayal in life. For some it may have been once, for others it more than that. For some it may be very dramatic, for some others, it may be quite modest – depends on the situation and temperament, but it’s certainly part of the cycle.

While pondering helplessly over my niece’s grief, suddenly some thoughts of betrayal flashed through my mind. No, I certainly didn’t deserve those moments – as I did no harm to those people. Yes, I too had this feeling of betrayal from people I really trusted. Luckily, very few they are in number, but yes, they did what I least expected from them.

I shared this thought with my niece that I too at some point in my life felt a severe breach of trust. Initially, the reaction is that of hurt and anger. I wanted to give back what I felt … And then? I had self doubt. Angry at myself for having trusted someone like this! But it doesn’t help actually. For me, I started losing focus and ended up feeling depressed. And then its about acceptance!

The easiest way is to move on… and we all do that with the passage of time, but it’s not easy actually… because some situations leave a scar!

To all my friends out there (whom I genuinely call friends) I just have one word of advice. If you wish to break off from a dear friend – whose role in your life you feel is over – do it with dignity, not with cowardice. Tell your friend clearly why you need to part ways. Indifference to me is a form of weakness – avoiding and ignoring contacts make one a quitter. At least for the sake of the good old times – when that friend’s company meant everything, in whom you thought you found a Soulmate or somebody whom you perceived could be a friend for life – and you believe your friendship has to end, do have the guts to say ‘Goodbye’ gracefully.

And KB, this one is for you to really feel better and move on:

If I can sleep forever, I hope to see you in my dreams.
I was happy filling my mind with memories.
Memories I will keep forever.
Memories I will cherish.

But WE ALL HAVE TO WAKE UP SOMEDAY, right?

Hindi Cinema: An Ode to the fabulous ’50s

1950s – One of the unique decades in the history of Indian cinema, blessed with talented directors and artistes who could stamp their individuality in their work. If we take the example of Hindi cinema in particular, the Golden Age has already begun. Unfortunately only a handful of my contemporaries are aware of this era (there are some who rave about 70s, another peak time in Hindi cinema, but 50s to me still remains a landmark era – left unexplored by many). Not only the story ideas and presentation, some of the milestone songs were also created in the era that lingers forever in our mind. The movies in the 50s mostly revolved around the common people, who faced various struggles in life – struggles that the audience could relate to. India just got its independence and there’s struggle in every front as reflected in many of these films. And finally the films of this decade showed that the good always triumphs over the evil.

Fabulous 50s

Fabulous 50s

I feel proud to have watched a good number of films of that period. There are so many to name, but here I’ve listed out six of my most favourite Hindi films of the 1950s.

•    Do Bigha Zamin
•    Mother India
•    Pyaasa
•    Sujata
•    Kaagaz ke Phool
•    Awara

In Do Bigha Zamin, one of the most memorable 1950s films, Balraj Sahni and Bimal Roy join forces. The film relates to that of the Italian neo-realist movement. It revolves around a poor farmer who is obliged to go with his young son to Calcutta to make money in order to save his land from a greedy landlord. Sahni’s towering performance is the axis around which the film moves. Brilliantly directed, beautifully photographed and acted, the film was the recipient of several national and international awards for its direction and acting.

Mother India, one of the outstanding films in the Golden Age of Indian cinema, is an epic tale of a mother’s struggle against adversity to retain her farm and bring up her children. Radha, played by screen queen Nargis, is a strong, passionate mother, tilling the soil with the plough on her back when there are no oxen, and raising her children alone. The film portrays with perfection a powerful view of rural life. Set in a small Indian village, it exhibits raw emotions and cinematic fineness.

Guru Dutt’s Pyaasa remains a masterpiece. It quenches the thirst that one has when they desire to see a great film. This classic film is the epitome of fineness potraying Vijay (Guru Dutt), an unemployed poet, who discovers that the love of his life, Meena (Mala Sinha), has been married off to a rich businessman. The poet has little to live for besides his only friends, a messeur (Johny Walker) and a prostitute (Waheeda Rehman), who came to his life as an angel, saving him in more than one way. Besides its enthralling screenplay and performances, the film is known for its extraordinary music by S. D. Burman.

Sujata by Bimal Roy explores the plight of untouchability and remains one of the most humanistic films made on the subject. The story narrated in restrained manner, sees yet another stunning performance from Nutan in the central role. She enacts the role of the untouchable girl with extraordinary grace and is able to convey her hurt and trauma with her inimitable gesture. Dialogues are evocative that brings out the human emotions of the story. And helping to lift the film several notches is its evergreen musical score by S. D. Burman. All in all, Sujata endures as one of Bimal Roy’s masterpieces and one of Nutan’s best ever performances.

According to me, 1950s would remain incomplete if I miss out on Guru Dutt’s semi-autobiographical film, Kagaz Ke Phool. This cult classic was made ahead of its time, but later experts recognised its piercing brilliance – its bold symbolism. Guru Dutt as the genius filmmaker and Waheeda Rehman as his protégée act beautifully. This melancholic masterpiece boasts of breathtaking cinematography is what critics believe.

Raj Kapoor’s Awaara is also a stunning example of full tilt filmmaking. Featuring outstanding musical interludes by the duo Shankar-Jaikashan, this film effortlessly blends a wide range of influences like neo-realism and the surrealism. Raj Kapoor and Nargis – the finest screen couples of all time makes it an exciting and unforgettable film.

My other favourites of the 1950s include Baiju Bawra, Jagriti, Bimal Roy’s Devdas, V. Shantaram’s Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje and Do Aankhen Barah Haath (another great director ahead of his time). I often liked Dev Anand’s films for its songs more than storyline and performance. And I’m sure I’ve forgotten to mention the names of many more of my favourite films, which I would surely do in my next blog post.

Silence and Speech

Enjoyed reading “The Strength of Stillness” by Sri Aurobindo. An excerpt:

There are two great forces in the universe, silence and speech. Silence prepares, speech creates. Silence acts, speech gives the impulse to action. Silence compels, speech persuades. The immense and inscrutable processes of the world all perfect themselves within, in a deep silence, covered by a noisy and misleading surface of sound–the stir of innumerable waves above, the fathomless resistless mass of the ocean’s waters below.

sea of life

sea of life

We often see the waves,  hear the rumour and the thousand voices – and by these  judge the course of the future and the heart of God’s intention; but in nine cases out of ten we misjudge. Therefore it is said that in History it is always the unexpected that happens. But it would not be the unexpected if men could turn their eyes from superficies and look into substance, if they accustomed themselves to put aside appearances and penetrate beyond them to the secret and disguised reality, if they ceased listening to the noise of life and listened rather to its silence or the stillness.

But there are two kinds of stillness–the helpless stillness of inertia, which heralds dissolution, and the stillness of assured sovereignty which commands the harmony of life. It is the sovereign stillness that results in Calm. The more complete the calm, mightier is the force in action. In this calm, the right knowledge comes.