Book review: Go set a watchman

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A confession first. When I took up the first book of Harper Lee (To kill a mockingbird, published 1960), it was mostly because of the fact that it was her ‘only’ book for almost five decades. I wanted to know how can somebody attain so much with just a single piece of literature. She won a Pulitzer and Freedom medal for it. I always wondered why she didn’t write anything after it. I thought may be it was the insecurity and fear of not being able to top her own work. Between, it has been dubbed something of a must read and rightly so. I read it and it consumed me. The shear simplicity and bravery of Lee’s protagonist, Scout, a girl of around 10, captured my heart. The book talked about the much tabbooed subject of race in United States. The book touched upon the difficult subject with such beauty that one cannot simply stop reading it.
After fifty five years, she somehow decided to prescribe another dose of her writing. And out came ‘Go set a watchman’. And not without controversies but those are none of our business. You can always read those juicy conspiracy theories on internet!
The book watchman is, as some claim, an early draft of mockingbird. But publishers have published it as a sequel to the first one. The story is set twenty years ahead of the end of previous novel. Most characters are same in both of the books. Scout (Jean Louis Finch) is twenty six now and lives independently in the cosmopolitan world of New York. Her upbringing, as the readers of first novel would know, has had a great impact on her. She has grown up to be a rebel, a free thinker and  equal rights supporter. She has unequivocal faith in her father, Atticus, the lawyer. He is her idol, almost god like.
The world comes crushing down on her during her two week long visit to her hometown of Maycomb. How she loses everything that she had held dear from her childhood and how she comes to term with it, is pretty much the theme of the book. This redefines her relationship with her father and Maycomb as a whole.
The book is filled with flashbacks that at times don’t make much sense. The story and the writing style are not as gripping as they were in Mockingbird. But there is something that I liked about the book. The book is actually, in a way, just a lesson for all ‘coming off age’ people. Coming off age in more of a philosophical term, I mean. Its about getting the real meaning of life and understanding the dilemma to question your idol or not! Its devastating for Scout to find her views contradictory to her father’s (her idol, her god). All her life, she had looked upto him and now she finds herself on the opposite end of his beliefs. She feels sick and suicidal.

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I feel connected to the book in a way, mostly because I am, as most of the early twentys are, in the same phase as Scout. Most of our lives, we have looked upto our parents or may be someone else has been too close to our heart. We have considered their advices as sort of commandaments. We have tried to follow them in their footsteps. But things become difficult when we start to, may be live outside their circle or may be read more or understand more. Minor differences, like different tastes in music, starts to crop up more often. Sooner than later, we have different political opinions or may be different outlook to tackling racism.
Thats the time when Lee gently but strongly forces the point of not idolising personalities. She puts forth the fact that we, because of our unique thinking minds, can never agree on each and every matter of the world. You learn from your parents the most, but you cannot simply mimic them. Because, in mimicry, there is no growth. We are not amoebae to just multiply without reason. Take what you feel right and redefine yourself.
Thats all I can gather from the book. I don’t think I would want to read it again. The first book was a masterpiece. This, not so much.

Happy reading…

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Of books and reading…

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Of late, books have become a constant companion to me. Ever since college, my already small friend circle has been shrinking. But, I guess that is the case with most of us. Its difficult to keep tab. People get busy. Priorities do change. In these changing times, I find myself in love with books again. (Also cause I am single…) Books take you to places you can’t even start to imagine. Although I am still searching for the genre that could feed my constant needs. But at times, I feel this is much better. I read everything I can lay my hands on. This phase of life when you don’t have much to worry about is the best time to search for your place in the world.
Books give me answers. They take me to a parallel universe and to the past. At times, I am lost in the Peristan with Dunia,the jiniia of Salman Rushdie and at other times, I am in 1990s watching the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits with fourteen year old Rahul Pandita. Sometimes, I am awestruck by the way how writer moves seamlessly from one story to other. I want to become Rushdie when I realise the depth of his words. At other times, I want to be a mythologist, while reading Devdutt Patnaik, and want to make sense of my culture and tradition. I sit in silence, at times, tears trickling down, reading about the struggles of Swami Vivekanand. I bite my nails while racing through the stories of Sydney Sheldon.

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These are all stories, real or fantasy. Books are but a collection of stories, to be told and spread. As I come to realise, its not about the books per say. I like stories, people’s stories. We are nothing but stories after all. I like listening to them. Some happy, some sad. Some are boring like mine, some are super exciting. Stories inspire us in ways we don’t really understand. And I believe, telling stories is the most important thing in the world. Remembering and sharing stories from one generation to other is what makes us human. Its important that we remember the holocaust through Anny Frank or the racism through Harper Lee. Its important to remember.
Books expand one’s mind. That I have realised in past five years. I come from a town where it was difficult to get good literature. Even then, my childhood was full of stories from children’s magazines and more importantly from folk tales of Garhwal (thanks to my parents and grand parents). My fascination for books actually started during college. Thanks to digital world, it was possible to have books delivered at home. That opened new doors for me. I could get Sudha Murthy to tell me an anecdote from her life or Rowling to book a train ticket to Hogwarts. It was fun and educating at the same time.
So, a shout out for all the book readers out there. Read and share and write. For everyone else, do read something. Trust me, it will change you. It will make you a better person, I guarantee you that. Plus its one hobby that won’t take much. And parents will never say no for a book you want. Trust me…
Keep reading…keep evolving…

Nav Ratra and Us

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Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on fast these days. So are tens of thousands of other devout Hindus. He, as has been pointed out a lot of times in the media, is surviving just on water and fruits. This 9 day period in Hindu religion is called the ‘nav ratris’- the nine days of the Goddess Shakti, who represents the power, the better half of the God- the creator, the caretaker and the destroyer. She completes Him. He is nothing without her as she is nothing without him. The nine days represent nine different menifestations of the Goddess. There is one Brahmacharini- the chaste one who has renounced everything, then there are Maha gauri- the supreme mother, the Sidhidatri- the giver of all worldly things, Katyayini- the demon slayer, the Kalratri- the black one- the goddess of death, and many others.
Hindu religion keeps under its cover a lot many sects- Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shakts being the prominent one. The beauty of Hinduism is in its ability to let contradictory thoughts flow and even respected within its cover. It allows debates and discussions. One goddess rides a cow while the other rides a lion, contradiction appears even in the representation of gods. The Shiva and the Mahakali are antithesis of all other gods of the Hindu pantheon. They love what others abhor. She loves darkness and rides a donkey in some depictions. What I am saying is, Hinduism believes in celebrating the opposites. Our culture has become rich and has survived for 5000 years only because it allowed discussions and debates. Taking offense can never be a part of Hinduism.
What we are seeing today in our society is the popularisation of monotheistic values. We take offense to tattos of gods. But isn’t our religion says that god is everywhere. How can a person be demeaning it when she herself is a manifestation of god! Some of us believe in vegetarian practices, others don’t. Keeping aside the moral debate, who decides what is right. Some brahmins (the learned ones) are vegetarian. They don’t even eat onion or anything that is a part of ‘tamas’ food. While being a Pahari, I know in my place, whenever a goat was offered to the goddess (yes some people do offer ‘bali’- the living offerings), the head of the offered animal would always go to the priest! So, who decides what is right and where to take offense?
There can be no sure answer. People do strange things all over the world, they eat strange foods, they wear strange clothes, they follow strange rituals. Thats all simply because humans have brain. We have what we call the ability to decide. And so we decide on strange things. We can decide to eat beef or pork or even snake and cockroaches! If we feel something has religious sentiments for us, we should express them. But that doesn’t give us the right to kill others or push others into sharing our belief. In saying that, it also doesn’t give us the right to celebrate something that others abhor, like organising a beef party in Hindu dominant place or a pork party in a Muslim dominant area!
People just need to understand this. All violence is bad. Period. Killing in the nake of Muhammad is as bad as killing in the name of Cow or killing in the name of Jesus. Spates of killings all over the country are simply a stupid way to assert dominance. Hindus are a dominant people in this country. And we are going to be so. We don’t need bigots and fundamentalists to decide what offends us or what we should do to preserve our religion. Our religion predates them by thousands of years and is going to be there after them.
In a democratic setup, there is a great importance of spoken words. Our President has rightly condemned the intolerance that has always remain a miniscular part of our society and upheld the principle of tolerance and universal acceptance. He rightly pointed out the quote of Swami Ramakrishna Paramhansa, ‘jato matt, tato path’- ‘as many beliefs, so many paths’ to reach that supreme power. I wish when our Prime Minister breaks his fast on the ninth day of navratri, he also breaks his silence on rising ‘stupidity’ of a fraction of his people. Words from a mass leader can and have done wonders many times. Its how s/he uses them. I know, every night, when he puts his head in the feet of Goddess, he is praying for his people, for us. I just want him to speak out loud. People also needs to stop becoming pawns of politics. We need to understand that its enough. We have been a democracy for six decades. Its time we move on from petty politics to development politics.

Happy Nav Ratra…Happy Durga Puja…
OM Shanti, Shanti Shanti…

Panch Kedar Trek- 1 (where adventure meets spirituality)

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Mountains have always fascinated me. There is something about those towering peaks that has intrigued me and attracted me. Well, I am a Pahadi (mountain people) and I have lived most of my life in the valleys surrounded by the Shivaliks. And I have grown up listening to the stories of my grandmother and father. Stories about how they used to toil day in and day out with the hardships that come with the beauty of the Himalayas. Stories about how they used to walk many kilometers to bring wood and fodder. So, recently when I got the chance to trek on Panch Kedar route, I couldn’t resist the temptation.

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Beautiful Urgam Valley

This is a moderate trek trailing through the middle Himalayas with heights ranging from 1000 to 3500 metres. I had an armyman for the company, an elder brother by relation. It was all his idea and I just tagged along. But as we came to know while trekking, ‘only that happens what the Shiva desires…’. So as it came to pass, me and him left Dehradun on 19th of September for Helang in Chamoli district. We expected to reach Urgam the same evening but couldn’t because of the unavailability of vehicle. The halt at Helang was luxarious by any standard. Its a station on Hrishikesh- Badrinath National Highway and hence the facilities. The toilet of the motel is what I will remember for my life!

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Bathroom in Helang

The next morning we started on foot as the timing of vehicles on village roads is not very regular and so started our eleven day long trekking sojourn. Needless to say, the Himalayas offer so many beautiful sights that one could easily lost track of time in her lap. So, the first day, we hiked for around 7km along the road and were lucky enough to get a ride with a carrier truck for rest of the 6km. The local villagers were kind enough to offer us seats with the driver while they sat on the roof. And so we were in the beautiful valley of Urgam by noon. This valley is most famous for its large production of Apple, Rajma daal, Ram Dana and Potato and the picture perfect views that can easily take your breath away. This village ‘Devgram’, where we found our porter cum guide, can easily be a model village for development in the hilly areas. Our guide was happy to host us at his own home for the day and we couldn’t have missed the chance to enjoy some authentic Pahari delicacies.

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That day, we visited the first of the Kedars on our list, Kalpeshwar Mahadev, where the locks of the Lord are worshipped. The temple, most of it under an engorged rock, is at a 2km walking distance from Devgram. River Kalph-ganga on the left and a beautiful waterfall form its boundary. The priests here are local villagers of Rajput caste (a rare phenomenon). We also met some Sadhus living there who were lost in ‘Shiva’. They offered us tea and sudden rain gave us few more hours to enjoy their company and the strange calm of a religious place. I had experienced this exact same calmness and peace at Jama Masjid in Delhi before. A visit in the evening to the Dhyan Badri ( Lord Vishnu in meditation) temple in nearby village called it a day.

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Myself in front of Kalpeshar Temple- the engorged rock can be seen in background under which the main temple is located

The next day, we started for Rudranath where the face of Lord Shiva is worshipped. It takes three days to reach their and believe me when I say that these three days could offer you some of the most memorable moments of your life. The trail passes through the dense Deodar and Rhodedendron forests full of a number of big and small streams, and mesmerising meadows (local: bugyals) with beautiful lakes. Snowclad mountain ranges make for a great companion along the whole trail. The shear excitement of sighting wild animals including leopards, black bears, musk deers and birds like Monal peasants, mountain vultures, etc keep you on your toes and your fingers on the camera button.
Our trek started with the trail entering into the dense jungle just above the village. The forest was full of numerous water streams, this being the immediate post monsoon time. About two kilometre into the trek, we crossed an ashram cum temple by a big stream belonging to Urva Rishi, on whose name the whole valley is called Urgam Valley. After that, it was a continuous 6km upward stretch through the forest with a few occasional grassy patches giving us some time to catch our breath. The brilliant view of Chaukhamba and other mountain ranges helped as a distraction to the tiring upward walk. We had our packed lunch at the top of the peak and after a much needed break, we resumed our trek. We still had 10km to go till Dumak village, our night halt. But now, much to my happiness, it was a continuous downward walk on the opposite side of the peak we just ascended. This was also the point where we saw our next day’s complete trek till Rudranath. We were to go to the bottom of the mountain and then again climb the next one for most of next day to reach the Panar Bugyal. We had a much fulfilling tea at Kalgot village where we saw some large plantation areas of cannabis. Local people export this to Kumbha Mela and other places. One headsup for first timers is that don’t wish for too many downward treks as I came to understand. They can be a horror to you toes.

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                             Chawkhamba as seen during trek

With few ups and downs and a few more streams, we reached the Shaileshwar Mahadev temple, the village deity of Dumak and that also marked the boundary of village. Soon we were among the population. A beautifully settled village on a vast low altitude meadow and many cheerful faces welcomed us. We went straight to the relatives of our guide who were to play the host for us. Their lodge is in final stage of construction so we were invited into their family home, a traditional Pahari house.

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Our stay at Dumak village

The next day was going to be the most tiring but exciting part of our whole journey. We were aiming to reach Panar Bugyal by the end of the day. The day started with a downward 3km trek till the base of the mountain and we crossed the roaring Maina gaad (most probably named after the mother of Goddess Nanda in local traditions). After this, the trail again got lost in the dense forest of deodar, baanz and rhodedendron and we had to climb uphill for the rest of the day. With small meadows in between (vis-toli and ban-toli, as they were called locally) through out our trek in the jungle, we reached Toli Bugyal for our lunch.

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Beautiful Toli Lake and Bugyal

By this time, we were almost ready to call it a day. The continuous ascend had taken the best out of us or that we thought. The remaining 7km till Panar were also steep climb and the clouds had started covering the sky. With enough strenght from lunch and two rounds of tea at the only shelter house of local shepherds, we were ready again. The shepherd, an old man of 85 and his brother in his late 50s were more than anxious to host us for the night, mostly, I assume, for money but also for the company they would have got in such a lonely place. He even lured us with the promise of pure buffallo milk and curd in dinner. But we had enough time and long distances to cover. So, at around 2pm, we left the beautiful Toli bugyal behind us and entered into another dense jungle. This was the most ardous part of our whole trek. Our guide also informed us about a local saying that goes, ‘german ki ladai aur panar ki chadai bahut kathin hain’….meaning ‘the ascent of Panar is almost as difficult as the fight with Germans…’

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                                    Trail through the jungle

We couldn’t take much breaks in the jungle as it was surely going to rain and paths were already very slippery. By 4:30pm, we saw the trees getting less dense and grass started becoming visible. We knew we had reached the end of tree line and the start of Panar Bugyal. The height was around 3000m and it was becoming difficult to breathe. After a brief rest, we started the remaining 1.5km of straight walk along the top of the ridge. It was windy and the fog was covering us on all sides. It was a treat to watch how the nature can play with so many hues and colors. By 5:30pm, we saw few orange-yellow flags waving in between the fog and it declared the end of our journey for the day. A beautiful local Bhutiya puppy welcomed us. Our halt for the day was a make shift lodge that doubled as a kitchen. The owner had goats and sheeps, numbering in hundreds, surrounding the lodge. As soon as we kept our bags down, it started raining so heavily that we had to immediately go inside. ‘Only that happens what the Shiv desires..’ We were lucky enough to cross the most difficult part of journey without much difficulties.

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                             Panar bugyal in the morning

The morning, as far as I could remember, was the best of my life. The visibility was best after a night of heavy rains. Snow led mountains like Chowkhamba, Nanda devi, Nanda Ghunti, etc were clearly visible on one side of the ridge and the beautiful Alaknanda valley on the other. We had our breakfast of half cooked chick peas, which gave stomach ache to our guide, at around 8am. That day, we had a straight walk of 8km along the top of the ridge till Rudranath Shrine. The only problem was difficulty in breathing due to scarcity of oxygen. My partner told me stories from his experience of high altitudes in army and I shared with him some of the local folk lores of Garhwal that I had heard since childhood. So thats how we kept ourselves busy along the long lazy walk of the day. We were joined by a group of four Bengalis who were also aiming for the same Panch Kedar trek. We passed through Pitra Dhar (literally, the slant/pass of the ancestors), one of the highest points of our whole trek at around 3100m. Locals and travellers keep a stone here in memory of their ancestors. Ancestors have always attained primacy over Gods in local Garhwali traditions. Along the path, we saw a few Griffin vultures flying high above the clouds. We reached Panch-Ganga bugyal for lunch. We left our bags here before proceeding for Rudranath, which was 3km from here, as we were aiming to return back for the night stay.
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                                              Pitra dhar

The first sight of Rudranath shrine complex was a divine experience. It had started raining a little. We had our tea at the only rest house and waited for the temple doors to open after the day time rest. The temple here is a cave temple with the Garbha griha (Sanctum sactorum) inside it. Only the outer part is built with stones and wood. The natural phallus was completely covered in Brahma Kamals (the Prasad of Shiva’s temple) and it was a sight that could easily mesmerise anyone.

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                                      Rudranath temple
After some time spent around the temple complex and some pictures clicked, we headed back for Panch Ganga but only after another round of tea as it had already started raining heavily. Only that happens what the Shiva desires. We reached Panch ganga before dark and had a fulfilling dinner.
The next day was a back journey till Panar and then a straight downward walk till Sagar ( named after the ancestors of Lord rama), a roadhead town.

So, this was my long travelogue of the first leg of our journey from Kalpeshwar to Rudranath, the first two Kedars. Further parts of the trekking will follow soon. I will also try to share the brief itenerary and map of the trek for people who would like to experience the trek first hand in further posts. More pictures will also follow soon.

To all the bigots (or the saviours of religion as you call yourself) out there…

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Narendra Dabholkar…killed- april 2013. Reason: opposed superstitions. Govind Pansare…killed- 2015. Reason: hurt ‘hindu sentiments’. M M Kalburgy…killed- August, 2015. Reason: opposed idolatry in Hinduism! Three scholars killed in as many years. Who is to blame! The one who put bullets in their bodies or us, who do not even stop to shed a tear or two? They said something that apparantly hurt some people who claim to represent Hinduism…My religion!
Today, I want to address those people. Yes, I want to talk to you. You, who I dare say, have never read anything that these three eminent scholars wrote. And I must say, I never read them myself but I promise you that some day I will. And no matter how much I disagree with them, I can never wish them dead just because they wrote something which I don’t subscribe to. But you! You did something you can never take back and I have reasons to believe that you don’t want to. You just want to move on to your next ‘target’. Some old professor or a writer or an activist or an artist, may be. I know why you killed them. And I dare you that no matter how many you kill, you can’t kill the idea of which you are afraid. Yes, with all your power and muscle and guns, you are afraid. You are afraid of an old professor who has written around 100 books in his lifetime. You are afraid of an old Dabholkar who tried to save some poor people from superstitions and so called tantrics and hacks. You are afraid because, deep down, you know you can kill Kalburgy’s mortal body but you can’t dare touch his body of work. You are afraid because when you kill a Dabholkar or a Pansare or a Kalburgy, you know a rawat or someone else will rise and write something or say something that will ‘hurt’ your sentiments. I don’t know if those sentiments are religious because I am sure you don’t know religion that you claim to follow.
You misread Geeta, the Hindu religious book, when you think that it asks us to kill those who, we believe, are at wrong. You misread Holy Qouran when you think that it asks us to wage Jihad against the infidels. You are wrong. You are afraid and you are wrong. Or I think you are afraid because you are wrong and you don’t want to get caught. But, get this straight. You have been caught. You are caught everytime you burn a book of Wendy Doginer or release a fatwa against Salman Rushdie and Tasleema Nasreen. You are no better than ISIS who kill people and destroy monuments. You want to change history by changing street names and history books. ISIS wants to deny history by destroying the remnants. How are you two different?? I pity you because you are afraid of a book. I pity you for your screwed up version of religion.
“Dharm ke thekedar”, a phrase in Hindi aptly defines you. Why? Because you have taken upon yourself to defend MY religion. Who asked you to? I never gave my permission. And I believe nobody in their right mind ever will.
This is another reason I am writing this blog. I want to take back my right to judge my religion. Don’t you dare say that you are defending my religion by killing some innocent souls. You are the one who shame and degrade my religion. You shame us when you call yourself the followers of ‘Bajrangi’ and then beat couples in Kerela and Karnataka. You shame us when you, in all your ignorance, claim that people of particular religion are giving more births just because they want to outgrow the population of our religion! You shame us when traditional Panchayats decree that girls be raped and paraded naked just because they chose their husband from different caste and religion.
Take a look at your history and then spare a thought for the history of our subcontinent (even your skewd history will suffice, the one in which our people talked to aliens!). You are not more than a hundred year old and how long has this Indian tradition survived? Thousands of years without anyone defending it! So don’t fret. This tradition and culture will survive long after you are gone. This tradition believes in accepting ideas from all around and thats exactly it has survived. But I know people like you. You will always be there. You were there in the 19th century defending Sati and child marriage and burning effigies of Rammohan Roy and Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar. You were there before that defending Manu Laws. You will be there but be assured that we will be there too. We will be there to write something that you can’t understand and thus despise. We will be there in various names….Dabholkars, Kalmurgys and Pansares. Not many of us will speak but keep in mind that our silence doesn’t mean that we support you. No. It actually means the opposite. It means that when we speak, you will be destroyed. So, I ask you to mend your ways. Lay your veiws on the table. Talk to people like Dabholkar and Kalimurgy. I am sure that they will be excited to listen to your side of the story. Discuss things like gentleman. Don’t be a goon!
I hope you read this. I know its difficult to spare time to read something when you are in the ‘street business’. But do spare a thought for a person of your ‘fellow religion’.
Thanx…

Everybody Loves a Good Drought….book review

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This book by celebrated journalist Sh. P sainath has aptly been called ‘the Bible of Development Studies’. It is based on his journeys through some of the poorest Indian districts from the period of 1993 to 1995. Through this compilation of short stories bundled together into seperate chapters, each focussing on different developmental problems like unemployment, poverty, migration, usuary, etc, Sainath has presented a much needed humane, and sometimes horrifying, understanding of developmental processes.
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Sainath, at multiple occasion within the book, has mentioned that the problem with developmental studies has always been that focus had hovered around statistics and its practioners had failed to realise development as a ‘process’. In the book, he does precisely that. He tells stories. Simple stories of people like Ratnapandi from Chennai, Puchchi from Ramnad or Subhaso from Surguja… Stories are numerous and the common theme that underlines them all is how we have failed as a state. The story of Puchchi (literally meaning ‘insect’) is a blow to those who claim to have iradicated slavery. Sainath observes how the practice has trasformed itself in name and appearance but still remains the same oppressing reality. People like Puchchi and Adimayee (slave) have remainedbonded labourers all their lives and that too without any cash payment.
Sainath points to the flawed developmental policies of the govt. Examples are ample. Milch cows were provided to the Pahariyas of Bihar. They  never asked for them and couldn’t even afford their feeding costs. So at the end of the whole process, the animals were dead and the Pahariyas were deep in debt. Another instance is of how the milk surplus district of Naupada in Odisha was ‘selected’ for developing a new ‘miracle cow’. As one can expect, all the decade long project achieved was pushing the local Khariar breed almost to extinction and making Naupada milk- deficient.
There are many instances throughout the book that break your heart. You are almost forced to understand how poverty is not just a number. It seems almost unimaginable for us (who are reading this on internet) to know that there are people in our country who don’t even have a house to call their own or a steady source of income! It looks like a futile excercise when we see the ‘experts’ trying to put a number at poverty figures. The more pertinent question remains. How we going to provide a source of regular income to the poors or a proper education to the children? Are we not (the govt and the more affluent class) at fault? Is it not the fault of bureaucracy that the ‘Dhurua’ tribe from Makangiri couldn’t get any benefit reserved for the scheduled tribes just because an ignorant govt official recorded them as ‘Dharua’!!! This had created a rather amusing (may be not for them) situation where one brother was a beneficiary while the other wasn’t.
I might be a little over two decades late for writing a review. But then, some books are never out of ‘time’. I belive that even if, through me, this book reaches a few more hands, that would be a great service to the authors work. After all these years, one can just hope that the situation is not that bad today. But when one hears about thousands of farmers’ suicides over the years, one feels things have rather remained the same. Its really depressing to hear, on the 69th independence day, of twenty five thousand farmers asking the President to let them die. Again the pertinent question is not the number of farmers but the situations and processes that are pushing them towards suicide!
I hope the readers of this blog give a sincere reading to this seminal work of Sh. P. Sainath.

Midnight’s Children and The Lowland

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Two books seperated by years but connected by strong emotions and how they make you feel. I recently had the opportunity to read both of these books.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie doesn’t need an introduction. The best of bookers, it is a masterpiece. Salman plays with words and emotions and the characters. It is definitely a difficult book. One can’t simply read it and not be affected by it. It demands your attention. I would go as far to say that if you are looking for some ‘time-kill’, don’t even think about it. Salman uses words that will force you to look for a dictionary and he forms his own words too (so even dictionaries could fail!). It took me more then a month to read it and am still not sure how I feel about it. But yes, the sheer amount of emotions and number of complex characters and the magic (yes, the genre is magical realism, if you didn’t already knew!) is worth your time.

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri was also shortlisted for the bookers. And now I know why it didn’t make the cut. Well, simply put, it is too easy to read! (Unlike any of the booker winners I have had the opportunity (& courage) to read). Its simple in language but in emotions and feeling, it stands at par with midnight’s children. It was actually a kind of relief to have read it after midnight’s children. It has few characters with their own complex understandings. The story revolves around the choices they have made and the outcomes they are bound to embrace.
Both the books have their protagonists associated with particular events in Indian history. So much so that Salim Sinai of Midnight’s Children end up believing that it is he who is influencing the country’s future and not the other way round. In The Lowland, Subhash Mitra’s life would have been so different only if there was no naxalite movement. Both Salim and Subhash are surrounded by women. Women who influenced their lives. Women for whom they both sacrificed their dreams. And they both end up finding someone who believes in them.

Following is an excerpt from Midnights Children-
“All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do so, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate. But its more than that; no mere carrot and stick affair; because implicit in the games is the unchanging twoness of things, the duality of up against down, good against evil; the solid rationality of ladders balances the occult sinousities of the serpent;”

Mahabharat 4: Ram versus Krishna

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The two of the most famous gods among Hindus today, Ram and Krishna, the two avatars- the reincarnations of Lord Vishnu, have been at loggerhead; at least in my mind. It is a common human tendency to compare. We simply cannot live without it. As a Hindu, I have been given wide range of options to choose among gods. So why not use it? This has also been a topic of discussion with my friend and I have been meaning to write this post for a really long time, so here it is.

At the onset of discussion, I would like to clear that my choice has always been Krishna. While my friend favors Ram. Hence the discussion! So, this post is basically me keeping up my points. Lets see if I ever get a reply.

Ram- the maryadapurushottam…one who is superior of all humans… he is known and worshiped for his justice and morality. He went as far as to punish his own wife, just because a washer man questioned her. He exiled his pregnant wife to jungle. He never revolted against the convention. He could not do anything against the set instructions. He was a moral citizen…the utopia one could only aspire to become while knowing that one can’t actually become him. He was more a God than Krishna ever was.3434752578_acd27b5ba5

On the other hand, Krishna is a known mischief. The rule breaker, Makhanchor (butter-thief) was his name in childhood. He grows up to become a friend and counselor of Pandavs, the five Kuru sons of Kunti. His advice were universal. The only thing he cared about was to stand by Dharm- righteousness. For that, he would use saam-daam-danda-bhed; the four paths to attain one’s goal. The path didn’t actually mattered to Krishna. For Ram, path was as much important.

Krishna never shy away from his goal. He asked Yudhisthir to lie to Dronacharya about his son, Aswathama’s death. He was ready to break his oath of not fighting in the great war. He wielded the wheel of a chariot when Arjun refused to fight against the great Bheeshma, his own great grandfather. He was a rule breaker, a disruptor, an anarchist. He was much nearer to what a human can and is. And I believe that is what a God reincarnating as a human on earth is supposed to be. He has to have the drawbacks of a human. He must endure the sufferings that any other human would. What made him an incarnation was the way he dealt with these sufferings.

He can’t just be an utopian moral authority that is free of all human connections and feelings. Krishna would never have allowed his wife to be disgraced. He would have upheld the purity of his wife. He rebelled against the prevailing law of the land. He killed his own uncle- demon Kans. He went against the set norms cause they were against his morals. He went as far as was possible to secure a win for the Pandavs in the great war. But at the same time, he didn’t stopped the war from happening. He allowed everybody around him to make their own mistakes. He never stopped Yudhistir, the eldest of the Pandavs to gamble all his wealth. He believed in Karma- work.

As the Bhagwad Geeta- the moral authority of Krishna declares- “कर्मणोवाध्किारस्ते“- the right of the man is in his work. We can’t really alter the outcomes but the inputs. Yet time and again Krishna tried and succeeded in altering the outputs. Geeta is full of contradictions and I believe, that is the biggest lesson one can draw from life and times of Krishna. Human beings are fragile- mentally and physically. The only thing we can do is to try to stand by what we believe and at the same time be ready for change. After all, we are but one of the millions of shades of grey! That is why, what makes Krishna human, makes him GOD!

To Do or Not To Do!

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To be or not to be. This was the dilemma of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Mine is a little different… To say or not to say; to confide in them or not! I think this dilemma is not my unique phenomenon. Everybody in ‘their’ world deals with it at some point of time. As for me, this has been one of the biggest inhibitor in all my life’s decision. Even while writing this post, I don’t know if I should speak out or not! Not on public matters, of course. That everyone can do. I am thinking on the line of personal revelations. Should I let my secrets be revealed to someone or should I just let them be there in my heart, all alone? And to whom should I confide? I mean, will the one I choose be worthy of it? Can s/he hold it with her/him? Can s/he understand? These questions are never ending. I know it because I have been holding with them for very long.

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Paulo Coehlo says, one should never explain their dreams as they belong to themselves. But can we, at least, talk about them? Can we tell the closest of our friends what we dream of? I am not very good at face to face conversations. I guess that is the reason why I write here in the hope that someday, my thoughts will reach their ‘destination’. I have some great friends who understand. But humans have a suspicious nature. The fear of the unknown is too big to overcome. I am but an ordinary human and yes, I have that fear too. I often pass through a series of ups and downs on emotional front (my friends call it swing/polarity). In those moments of emotional highs/lows, I don’t want to talk. I just want to get away from the world. I feel confused. I get a feeling that they will surely misunderstand. But what if they don’t! What if they say, ‘Yeah dude, I know what you are talking about. Or ‘I know what it feels like.’ That would definitely be a progress for me.

All my life, I have had great deal of people influencing my decisions, consciously or unconsciously.  I don’t blame them. Most of them were actually looking out for me. And it’s also not as if I have always been subdued like this. I have my share of fair decisions as well. People love to indulge in other’s life. I do and I believe it’s just a human instinct. But very few really want to solve the difficulties of other’s life. The key to have a happy life is to find the person who doesn’t just want to ‘indulge’ but actually share and solve your life.

As of now, I don’t think the time is right for me to talk about ‘it’. I don’t know to whom I should talk. My friends are not ready. I am not ready. I hope that time come soon. I have waited much.

कुछ शब्द !

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ज़िन्दगी में सुख- दुःख कि छाया तो समय के साथ आती जाती रहती है। यह वर्ष भी इसी प्रकार गुजरा। इस वर्ष जहाँ एक ओर अपने दादाजी और नानाजी को खोया तो वहीँ कुछ नए रिश्ते भी जुड़े। प्रस्तुत पंक्तियाँ मैंने तब लिखी थी जब नानाजी के देहावसान पर दूर दूर से लोगों का हुज़ूम उमड़ रहा था…

वो कहते हैं दौलत से दुनिया चलती है,
वो कहते हैं शौहरत से ज़िन्दगी में इज्ज़त मिलती है,
देखा मैंने वो एक जनाजा भी…
देखा वो उमड़ता हुज़ूम लोगों का…
इक बात हि दौहराते पाया सबको
‘क्या लाया था साथ जो ले जाता,
आदमी कमाए ज़िन्दगी में, उसी का दम्भ लिए चल दिया बस।

कभी बीरबल से राजा अकबर ने पुछा, ‘एक ऐसा वाक्य बताओ जिसे ख़ुशी में पढूं तो दुःख हो और दुःख में पढूं तो ख़ुशी।’
बीरबल ने हमेशा कि तरह अपनी चतुरता से बहुत ही महत्वपूर्ण वाक्य कहा, ‘यह समय गुजर जायेगा।’
यह चार शब्द अगर हम अपने जीवन में उतर लें तो जिंदगी कितनी आसान हो जाये ! हमें हमेशा याद रखना चाहिए कि जो ख़ुशी आज हमारी है वो कल हमारी नहीं थी और सायद आने वाले कल में भी न हो। तो फिर हमें अति-उत्साहित होकर ऐसे कदम नहीं उठाने चाहिए जिसके लिए हम बाद में व्यथित हों।