Friday, May 25, 2007

I Can't Forget

My cousin and I would get it nicely (as in Bombay, they say) from our elders for playing around with Dadoo. Young children as we were, shy of even ten years of age, we would both take tremendous joy in standing on morahs and apply lipstick, kajal and rouge on Dadoo. He would bear it without a whimper and laugh his toothless laugh with us, not knowing we were laughing at him. His hair was white and carefully combed and he always sat in the verandah wearing thick glasses. As soon as anyone passed by him, he would say - Ke? Ke gelo re?" Who? Who is it who just passed by? He would do this several times, as many times as you passed by. Therefore, my cousin and I would also whisk past several times, to and fro, and everytime, Dadoo would say - "Ke? Ke gelo re?" We always laughed and giggled about it. But we loved him too. Both of us would hang around his weak neck and ask – " Dadoobhai, bolo aami ke?" And when he mixed us up, we would laugh again – " Na! Aami Tultul; O, Julu" we would say to confuse him further. Dadoobhai, would laugh with us innocently. Poor Dadoobhai, how was he to know one from the other? Or for that matter, how was he to know that he was in Tullygunj and not in Dulali, his native home in Bangladesh? He could not recognize his wife from his mother, his nephew from the family physician, he did not know when sitting among a room full of people, he would pass urine, he did not know that the lady who was constantly by his side, changing his lungi several times a day, bathing him, clothing him, was none other than his wife. When without telling anyone, he would suddenly hail a rickshaw and ask them to take him to Dulali, which was in fact in Bangladesh, the poor rickshaw-puller would finally realize that "Dadoo" was not really well and carefully bring him back to where he had taken his so called hired service. He would then go from door to door inquiring where this old gentleman was from. My grandaunt, Didimoni, would rise from her tears and rush to fetch him in, drying her tears with the edge of her sari. Was she never tired? What must have gone through her heart and mind, we never knew. She never complained. In fact, she was ever joyous at his little ziddi talks when as she bowed down to complete her morning puja he would pester her " Ma, prasad dao na. Dao na, Ma."

Dadoobhai was my mothers’ mama, her mother’s brother. My grandmother had only one sibling in him because, while they were very young, her parents died. The two children were adopted by their Mashi. My grandmother was married early. I am not sure when her brother was. But, way after my grandmother’s passing away, I was born and I stayed at my mother’s family house in Shillong and came to Calcutta once in a while. On these Calcutta holidays, my cousin sister and I would visit Dadoo at his home in Tullygunj, where he lived with his nephew. My Dadoo and Didimoni did not have any children between them. But for my Didimoni, I guess the need for a child was fulfilled by her husband itself – he had turned to such a baby. I am not sure when Dadoobhai passed away, but I know that Didimoni never left the bed after his passing away and it was not many months before she breathed her last.

The story was tucked away in my mind for many years. Until I received this invitation. It all came back but this time, I was flooded not with laughter but with tears – for my Dadoobhai and more so for my Didimoni. Such patience, such dedication, such magnanimity, such joy. I can only remember her in her white sari with a red border, smiling and showering us with love and care. I ask myself, did she ever cry like I am just thinking about her? My mind says, maybe. But who was there to see it? And even if my Dadoobhai saw it, would he have ever understood her pain and in any case, she would have pulled the edge of her sari and quickly wiped those drops of tears away.

How many mothers allow their children to see their pain and their tears?

~ The End ~

In response to the Invitation to Attend The Opening Ceremony of Dignity Dementia Care Centre at D 160,Gate 4, Freedom Fighters Enclave, Neb Sarai, IGNOU Road, New Delhi 110 068 on May 30, 2007, by Dignity Foundation, lead by the very dynamic Founder President, Dr Sheila Sreenivasan (

Caring for people whose brain disorders disturb and damage cognitive functions, affecting memory, one’s very personality, judgement, mood and social functioning.

What is dementia?

Dementia is a progressive brain dysfunction (in Latin 'dementia' means irrationality), which results in a restriction of daily activities and in most cases leads in the long term to the need for care. Many diseases can result in dementia, the most common one being Alzheimer's disease.

To know more about Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Environment: A Look At On Road Diesel Danger

On November 14, 2006, Centre For Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, lead by none other than Sunita Narain, gave out a press release: The Leapfrog Factor: Cleaning the air in Asian cities. In the release CSE gave some figures on the mounting vehicle registration in the city of Delhi itself as "in the last 10 years, the total number of personal vehicles has risen to a staggering 105%. In the same period, cars alone have increased by 157%. It is shocking to note that diesel cars during the same period have increased by 425%. The share of diesel cars, which was a mere 4% in the total car registration in 1999, has climbed to 20% in 2006 maintaining a growth of 16.6% per annum. This can be devastating in a city desperate for solutions to smoke particles and NOx* " (Nitrogen Oxide: See hyperlink below)

The recent feature in Outlook Business Magazine, May 20, 2007 edition, further added " The passenger car market which grew 22.7% to 1,076, 408 units during FY07 from 8,82,208 units in FY06 will see much more action in the diesel car this year." said Arvind Mathew, Ford India President, in the same issue " Currently, diesel vehicles account for about 30% of the market. By 2012, it could account for about 42% of the market."

Delhi (and I mean the politicians as well) has always been myopic, hypocritical and maliciously double standard – phasing out 12,000 diesel buses to escape from the lethal effect of diesel particles, but having, nor willing to have any control of " a conservative estimate of the 118,631 diesel cars on the city roads which is equivalent to adding particulate emission from nearly 30,000 diesel busses", is a rude shock to realize, once you are out of the pink-cloud effect of all is going to be well.

Meanwhile, after making a hash of world climate, America is in a hurry to find alternative fuel. Quoting from Down to Earth May 15, 2007 issue, Sunita Narian says in her editorial " US President George Bush has this year called on his country to produce 132 billion litres of biofeul by 2017, to cut dependency on foreign fuel. The US’s favourite fuel ethanol, is produced from corn starch and in Brazil, which is the world’s largest ethanol producer, mostly from sugarcane source."

Countries who have contributed majorly to global warming will have to pay a karmic price. It is now estimated that in this century, the temperature will rise between 2 – 4.5 degrees centigrade. In fact, the alarm has sounded in our Parliament as well with the news that in the next two years there is the probability of a rise in 2 degrees Celsius in temperature. This is already evident as ice is melting all over – in Greenland, The Antartica and in our own Himalayas, causing the seas to swell up. It’s almost time to plan for the second phase of Noah’s Ark.

But industry does not think so. Profits are all that is the concern and no matter what any corporate mouths, the bottom line is the same – profits. Car manufacturers have read the writing on the wall and are going for the kill. Almost every car manufacturer in India except Honda, perhaps, is racing against each other for the diesel car variation. Says Abdul Majeed of PricewaterCoopers India; " Diesel-driven vehicles are gaining popularity because of the ability to produce advance technology that is cleaner, quieter and more efficient than the technology of the past. Moreover, with the subsidies, diesel fuel is approximately 42% cheaper than petrol as the government attempts to grow the urban and the rural economies by selling the fuel below cost".

Does the dreaded Indian Environment Scientist, Sunita Narian think so? No! Quoting from The Leapfrog Factor ( See hyperlink below) " Diesel cars and SUVs not only emit several times more particulate, but also ….emit three times more NOx compared to a petrol car. ….deadly facts about diesel toxicity and evidence of acute cancer-causing potential of diesel pollutants are pouring in from around the world. Diesel fumes have been found to bear a lot more particles and NOx than petrol exhaust and are several times more toxic. Clean diesel solutions are still not available in India".

Outlook Business says " A convergence of factors in the Global Markets are causing automakers, consumers and the US government to look beyond the petrol status quo towards alternative power-train technologies. These factors include the need for energy security, a mounting environmental lobby and a growing socio-economic conscience. Of the alternatives, diesel fuel offers the greatest potential".

So it is no surprise, then, that US government has sanctioned $ 2.34 million more to research to find alternative fuel. What alternative fuel you ask? Alternative fuel from plastic! Scientists across the globe we are told by Outlook Businesses are struggling to make motor fuel from waste. But Richard Gross, professor of chemistry at Polytechnic University, in Brooklyn, New York, is turning plant oils, of the kind already used to make biodeisel, into "bioplastic".

"It’s all chemistry, " he says – " Fatty acids are separated from plant oil and altered chemically to form polymer. Polymer is heated and shaped into useful plastic shapes. After its use as a plastic container, it is chemically broken down into diesel fuel."**

So easy? Why did we not think of it before? Environmental Scientists warn " (If) We want to explore something on renewable source of energy as we understood the non renewable sources are getting scarce, we need to trade off between air or water. We can not have the cake and eat it too".

We hope that this time US will keep it’s own waste in it’s own backyard and not dump it in ours’. India is in the habit of courting rich men with large and lucrative price tags and a social conscience that awakes only after the damage is done. Then instead of cleaning up their own act, they begin to bully others to clean theirs.

Poor thinking. Rich man’s rubbish. Extreme consumerism.

Are we to leave behind a legacy of the stinking heap? And air we cannot breathe?

Steps we can take to preserve the air we breathe:

1. Initiate stringent on road checks on smoky vehicles
2. Intensify dedicated bus and rail services
3. Use car pool
4. Discourage Men’s Cloakroom Competition – " Mine-Is-Bigger-Than-Yours "– syndrome, by discouraging them from buying SUVs which is slowly becoming a trend.***
5. Maximize walking wherever possible.
6. Encourage bicycles wherever possible.
7. Increase awareness via media against harmful effects of diesel. Carry out Fear Campaigns
8. Include environment studies at home and in schools for children.
9. Learn from climate-savvy Europe.

NB: In this piece I have not dealt with pollution caused by Aviation boom.

News you can use:

Mobile phone wallpapers and ringtones of endangered animal and bird species are now available for free download on and are increasingly getting popular. Go join the movement to save biosphere.

* Nox: Nitrogen Oxide

** Gas from Garbage: Professor Gross Develops Bioplastic that Breaks Down into Green Energy - 03-20-2007

*** Tank Travel by Manjul Bajaj

Recommended readings:

CSE Press Release: The Leapfrog Factor: Clearing The Air In Asian Cities

Climate Change Affects Low-Lying Areas, Puts Poor At Risk

MUST READ: The Great debate on this subject

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Page From Chitra's Diary

T Janakiraman and I have something in common. He is a great Tamil writer and I am a great lover of Tamilians. Not all Tamilians, but a certain Tamilian. Not all Tamilians of all genders, but one certain lady of Tamilian orgin. Besides, I believe, T Janakiraman, also loved one place I am so deeply connected to - Kumbakonam. And why not? It is her birth place. She shares this with Srinivasa Iyengar Ramanujan, the great Indian mathemacian. In fact she is a mathematician too. Alas! That perhaps is the reason why, one plus one did not make two. I am a poor writer and poet, whose poems are rejected by all publishers. I am a person who is homeless and lives under the covers of bookshops, browsing through pages, absorbed in only the written word. In fact, that is how I met her at the Midlands in Aurobindo Market…..browsing through books.

“ Do you have T Janakiraman’s books?” I had asked the shop owner. “ No” he had said plainly. But by then she had heard the name and came across.” Did you ask for T Janakiraman?” I saw her for the first time. She was slim and had a large forehead and eyes that danced around. I said yes. I am looking for his book called Moga Mul. She looked pleased. “ Oh That! But do you read Tamil?” I said no. “Then how are you going to read it? It is only in Tamil?” “Oh really? Still I am going to buy it nevertheless!”

This began our association. Gayathri taught Mathematics at JNU and I was a lotus-eater, for days junking on books and intellectual discussions, feeding my mind with more words. People called me a junky. I was. Obsessive about books.

We began to meet sometimes. Then we met more often. Ultimately, she became my tutor. No, not mathematics. She read T Janakiraman’s Moga Mul from the Tamil version and explained it to me in English. We would read about a page and then the discussion would last for two hours. This way a year passed, then a half. Moga Mul, in Tamil means, thorn in the delusion – Moga/Moha, we all know to mean, delusion, maya and mul in Tamil means thorn. The book became my reality. My heart created its own delusion. I fell in love with her. I am not sure what her inclinations were, perhaps she knew it, perhaps not, but the dream arising from my heart had begun to overshadow all areas of my life. At last, I had to tell her one day. That was the end of my readings with her. Her doors closed to me. Next day when I arrived at her door at the appointed time, I was told by her landlord that she had moved out. Her cell number had changed and when I enquired at the Department of Mathematics at JNU, I was told she had gone on long leave. I went back to her house several times. I could never meet her again.

Thus, I took the train to Thanjavur last week to visit her home in Kumbakolam, hoping that at least if I never saw her again, at least I will have seen her birth place and her home – from a distance.How can you say you love someone if you do not know their culture, the place they grew up in, the food they eat….and if you know all these, then, whether the person is with you or not,physically, you will always be enmeshed with the other. And vice versa.

In the train I had read up on Kombakolam. It is in Tamil Nadu, and the second bigger town in Thanjavur District. Known for its silks and called the Temple City , Kombakolam is 313 km from Chennai on the south, 90 km from Tiruchy on the east and 40 km from Thanjavur on the North East. I love train journeys. They give you the space to sleep, relax, sleep and read. If you want you can also chat up the people around you. As if you were on London Sqare chatting up with other Indians there, you’ve never met before. As soon as you arrive at your destination, anyway, you’ll say good bye and forget them.

Traveling with me was a Swami from Hare Rama Hare Krishna and with him was his companion. Both were foreigners. There was also, a couple in their seventies. The regal looks of the lady and her docile yet immaculately dressed husband gave me the feeling they were TamBrams.

“ Why is it Swamiji,” said the young foreigner to the Swamiji, “ why is it, that people with homosexual tendencies, tend to fall from one love to the other so rapidly”? The TamBram old man picked up his ears, I put my book down to listen but the Swamiji’s response was thrawted by the lady. She gave one little tug at her husband’s elbow and whispered in his ears in Tamil “ These foriegners, they have nothing in their minds except sex. Even if they go to a temple all they are thinking about is sex. Look at this one, has he no better question on his mind? Come here! She commanded, pulling her husband close to her, “ What and all we have to listen to in this janam!” And although, the Swami had not understood a word of it, he knew something was wrong. He smiled at the lady. She gave him such a sour look, I thought that it tasted like rancid butter milk. The topic was not spoken of again.

From Tanjavur station, I took a bus to Kumbakolam. I was there in an hour. I knew her address. So without wasting much time, I headed to the destination. Once, at the street where her house was I looked for the place I could seat myself and watch the goings on in the house, without anyone suspecting me. I had reasons to be here. These reasons lay in my heart. I had to know more about her and get to her roots without disturbing her or her family.

A public garden opposite her house provided the perfect cover. I sat with my little jhola full of books and one set of clothes for changing.

Kumbakonam ihas a large number of temples within the town and the nearby areas. The festival of Mahamaham is celebrated every twelve years at the Mahamaham tank in Kumbakonam. The town is also known for its intricately carved Panchaloha idols, exquisite brass wares, silks and betel leaves. Kumbakonam is picturesquely located amidst the two rivers, Cauvery and Arasalar. In the 7th Century it was the Capital of Chola Kings.

Mythology has it that Brahma, the Creator, to continue with his work of Creation wanted to have a Peetam. Lord Shiva asked him to make a pot of "Amirhtam" and sand. The pot had a Peetam in it, with the Vedas around it on four sides. A coconut was kept over the pot and garlands of Poonul (Sacred Thread ) and Tharpai were decorated and Brahma worshipped it.During a flood, the pot floated and moved towards south from Mount Kailash . Lord Shiva in the disguise of a hunter, broke the pot with an arrow and the Amirtham spilled as "Amirtha Theertham" mixing the Amirtham of the Kumbha with sand. Lord Shiva emerged as lingam. The sacred place where he gave darshan as "Kumbeswaran" is now called Kumbakonam.

Presently, I saw a gentleman emerging from the house. He was clean shaven and wore a angavastra with a white vetti tied around the waist. It was obvious from his attire that he was going to the temple. I knew he was her father. He looked like a retired Government Official. Behind him, a lady came wearing a bright yellow silk sari. She closed the gate behind him and then went behind the house. From where I sat I could see she was at her kitchen garden. I had heard from Gayathri that she had green fingers and Environmentalist needed to learn a lesson or two from her on how to recycle waste. She was an expect at maintaining a balance in nature. There was no wastage at all in her house. Whatever, she did not use in one way, she used in another. Thus, here was a lady with an enormous amount of knowledge on waste management, know-how we could use. In fact, all her neighbours were following her example. So you had one street in Kombakolam where there was no garbage at all. Can you imagine that in Delhi or anywhere else in India for that matter?

I saw the colourful walls of the house. It had been built quite sometime ago and yet these walls had a history to tell me – I could see little mathematical equations in my mind’s eye written all over the walls as all children do when they first learn their A,B,C or 1, 2, 3…. Gayathri too must have written on the walls.I saw little Gayathri, wearing two tight oily plaits and a pavadai scribbling numbers on the walls.

The afternoon sun was getting hotter. I had to move to a more shady place. But just then the Guard at the garden came and looked at me suspiciously.

“Aye, enna pandrai, po veliye. Hey what are you doing, go out!”

The gates of the garden were closed for the afternoon. I moved out. Not knowing where to go I decided to visit some of the temples.

Of the many temples in Kumbakonam, the most striking is the Lord Sarangapani Temple, a Vaishnavite temple. This twelve storied, 147 feet high temple was built by the Nayak Kings during 15th century. The Ramaswamy Temple which depicts the paintings of Ramayana is another important Vaishanavite temple in Kumbakonam. The greatness of Ramaswamy Temple is said to be the only temple where Lord Rama, Goddess Sita are in the same platform and Lord Hanuman is playing the veena instead of reading the Ramayana. The entire deity is said to be made from Saligrama monolith. The Temple is filled with intricate carvings in its pillars.

Kubakonam was special to T Janakiram. He loved the River Cauvery. And the town was bound by two rivers The Cauvery, on the north and Arasalar, on the south.The two rivers embraced the town like a loving mother, a caring friend, maybe even a passionate lover.

I thought of Gayatri’s arms around me. No, they were never to be. And all the dreams I had had housed in my head were like sandcastles in the air. They were not sturdy like her house I saw, nor long lasting. And like the book she was translating to me, they were just a delusion. She was the thorn. Our story Moga Mul – a thorn in the delusion. It had burst. I looked around me, I could not find anything. The sandcastles I had built had been washed away by the rivers embracing Kumbokolam.

The half-read story of T Janakiraman Moga Mul, remained unfinished.

A Wild Horse Called Desire

" Are you trying to seduce me" Dev asked wickedly.

"Not at all! " I replied " I am only doing a reality check on you….."

" Hmmmmmm?"

" Yes, I said, letting my knee length T-shirt bought on the pavement outside the Sahakari Bhandar at Colaba, Bombay, slip down from over my right shoulder.

" Of course you are. Why else would you expose your shoulder to me!"

" Reality check, Dev, reality check. The whole night we have talked ourselves hoarse on the role of Howard Roark in Fountainhead, vis-à-vis Dominique Francon. You said it is Dominique who attracted Roark to her and I said no, it was their mutual desire for each other that brought them together."

Dev and I talked deep into the night and quite often we heard the tingling sound from the milkman as the milk bottles from Aarey Colony, shook and jingled making their own music, in the early hours of the morning. We would talk anywhere, forgetting that we were in the middle of a crowded street, a busy Irani Restaurant, night owls at the dingy dark chai shops in Fort or even the vada pau wala outside VT Station. Once a subject caught on, we would forget everything around us. Thus, I, on my first job as a Copywriter, was forever late at work. Having twisted and turned every subject, backwards and forwards, twenty times, we would finally turn in only in the wee hours of the night. In the morning, I would jump up and scream, " Late! I am late to work!" and dash out after a quick shower. Whenever, I spent the night with Dev, I always forgot to get my toothbrush with me and used his instead.

" Yak!" he would say. " You are biting into me!"

" You love it, don’t you.’ I would wink.

Admitted! I am not denying that I certainly wanted to bite into his flesh. At least subconsciously. But so did he. Why else did he insist on biting into my vada pau even though he had his own?

Desire . The whole world runs on desire. It is desire that creates the world and it is desire, which finally also takes us to our journey towards a life of no-desire.

There are different schools of thoughts on desire. The first which most of us identify with is the simplest. Desire is good. It is the path to "more". This is where the materialistic world lies. Life must be lived with more and more desire. The more you desire the more you acquire. The more you acquire, the more happiness it brings you. Therefore, desire! Accumulate! Desire more! Invent new things! Live life King Size!

Marketers have made good use of this theory and are raking in the bucks, while we pay to feed fuel to our ever-increasing desires. They are working overtime to educate us on how new things are indeed needed in our lives. We must have them, whether we want them or we don’t. We need them, nevertheless. If we are not the first to get them, then the Shuklas and the Jones will. How can we allow them to be one up on us? Matter of prestige and social face. As a by-product of desire, anything is possible to believe and marketers have been smart. In their astute hands, we have become their ‘cash cow’! But, whoever said that the best lessons of life don’t come for free?

This leads us to the other school of thought. Desire is the root cause behind our misery they say. And how can we say that they are wrong? We have seen that when we desire one thing, we desire it so much that all else is sidelined in order that we can acquire that one object of our desire. But, there seems to be a catch there. Once we have that object of our desire, we seem to lose interest in it over time. The same thing that blinded us at one time, gave us single-minded focus, is now not the focus anymore. Already, the mind is trying to find another object that can feed fuel to our new desire. So as victims of our own devices, we become pawns in the hands of smart marketers. Or we become victims of misery. We cannot find lasting joy in anything, because as soon as we have it, we lose the joy of having it. Or at it’s worst, we become disillusioned because we cannot have what we want.

In the meantime, there is a third category of individuals who are created. In fact, they are the worst hit. They are serious victims of desire because they are addicted to desire itself! Thus, these people only desire, but never get the object of their desire because, it is not the object they want, it is the experience of desire they love. It is like, being in love with the idea of falling in love that is more desirable, than actually experiencing and sharing that love with the other.

Very deep-rooted disease, this. We can at least work towards annihilation of the desire of the other within us, but how to rid ourselves of the love of desire itself?

Different religions show us different ways of handling this malady. I prescribe to the Buddhist school of thought which tells me that desires are caused by the constant layers of impressions that are created in my mind as I interact with the world outside me. These impressions are created by all my six senses – eyes, nose, ears, touch, taste and space. All impulses arising from these sensory perceptions result in impressions that go to make up my memory system around them. Thus, once I taste sugar, I will crave sweetness. And this school says that freedom from desire is the end of misery. We are in a state of Ananda (joy, happiness) already. Only when the thick cloud of desire is removed, we realize that the misery was like a smoke that covered the flame. So while ingrained and intrinsic to desire is also misery, once, the misery passes and we see the flame, we become aware that joy had never really left us. We are in the state of eternal Ananda. That is our swabhava, just as it is the swabhava of water to be cool.It is our Original face.

So was it all a hopeless exercise? Chasing that wild horse called desire? Must we go through this pain knowing that there is misery at the end of it? Why not avoid it, in the first place itself?

We are victims of our minds and our compulsions. To stand up straight, we must fall. Again and again. That is the learning curve.

When we have learnt enough on the same lesson, we will rise and not fall to the same temptations. That requires technique, the methodology to rise against the force of gravity.
For that we require many lives, many Masters.

P.S Straight from the hare’s mouth. Lessons learnt and experienced. And Witnessed later. Thanks to Dev and many others whom I am so grateful to for pushing me to my Self.