Thursday, July 27, 2017

Where I Stand on the Issue of the Karnataka Flag and Why....

The essence of being Indian is the ability to juggle several identities at once; linguistic, state, religious,cultural.lateral,diagonal, horizontal and several in between!!Take me for example, who am I? Well, when I say Iam Bengali, people nod knowingly and say..."...from Calcutta...?" Well, yes, Calcutta shaped a large part of who I am, but it does not define me completely. I have lived in calcutta for about17years, I was born there, it is still home...However, I belong to, or rather my ancestors belonged to Kartikpur village in Faridpur district of what is now Bangladesh. That is our village and it still forms a big part of who I am. My thinking, my humour, my propensity to discuss bowel movements at the dinner table, all come from that part of me...the bangal or country bumpkim in Bengali (loosely).That also affects my choices of food and tastes in cuisine. However I have never been to my 'desh'. My mother has also not been there but I've heard her speak fluently in the bangal dialect with my maternal grandparents...that, however is a different story....
Next, I am the daughter of a government servant. That is an identity on its own. My father worked in the Defense Estates department and therefore came in contact with the army and its ways while being posted in several different cantonments. Discipline and punctuality and a strict adherence to rules and regulations was instilled in us. I spent a considerable part of my childhood and most of my college days in Delhi as Baba was posted there. The Delhi University has also left a mark on who I am.The U Specials, the North Campus, The South Campus, 3 colleges I attended all shaped me. My group of friends from the institutions I attended enliven my life even now.
The next big influence in my life has been the shift to Bangalore 10years ago. Moving here has changed my perspective towards the South of this wonderful country. Many misconceptions, many biases and assumptions have been systematically dispelled in these years. Bangalore welcomed us with open arms, I have never felt for a moment that I do not belong here, or that I do not know the language. At firs tI thought that the language will be totally unfathomable, but in fact there are several Sanskrit  words used in Kannada that can be understood without difficulty.My Landlord and his family spoke in Hindi or English, so did the shopkeepers and auto drivers. The first Kannada word I learnt was 'Ba' which means come and  then the more respectful one 'Banni'. Since then I have really 'come' a long way in assimilating myself into this fascinating city.I still only have a smattering of Kannada, but that has not hampered in making me feel a sense of belonging to the city of Bangalore. Ofcourse I have heard and read about the North Indian phobia and the language Nazis but have not encountered them, thankfully.
During the first year in Bangalore,I noticed a flag with the colours of the East Bengal football club of Calcutta, yellow and orange, fluttering about all over the place. I was impressed, wondering how Kannadigas came to be a fan of this club!! Being a Bangal (originally hailing from East Bengal), I was a follower of this club as most Bangals are. The symbolic fish for this club is the illish machh as opposed to the chingri for Mohan Bagan, the team of the Ghotis or those originally from West Bengal...that's yet another story! Anyhow, I realised my mistake sooon enough, it was the flag of the Karnataka State!! On special festive days like the Karnataka Rajyotsava (1st November, when Karnataka attained Statehood), these flags are brandished all over the place and the city looks like Calcutta when East Bengal has won in a match against their arch rivals, Mohan Bagan!!I quite liked that!
Last year, when the erstwhile Tamil Nadu Chief Minister still walked upon this earth and was making life miserable for Karnataka on the Kaveri water sharing issue, which led to bad blood against Tamils in Karnataka, I found the flag being used in a novel manner. Political tension between the states led to the unleashing of anti social elements by the politicians. These mobs started pelting stones at Tamil establishments in the city. Scores of Tamillians were ill-treated due to no fault of theirs  and these episodes culminated in the burning of several buses of a Tamil owned travel company. Unfortunately, a political classes ever ready to vitiate the atmosphere and spread hatred is always present in all corners of India! After the first few days of stone pelting, shopkeepers and restaurant owners began to paste the Karnataka flag upon their establishments, specially the ones with glass facades. This discouraged the stone throwers and allowed the generally easy going population to have their kaapi in peace!
The question of a separate flag has arisen a few times before during my stay in Bangalore. It has got a fresh lease of life now after the question of having Hindi in Namma Metro sign boards. The BMTC buses, used by all sections of the Bangalore population,including non-Kannada speakers,have signs in only Kannada and English.No one has complained about that, so the opinion that as the Metro is used by non Kannadas, and non English reader, it has to have Hindi signs, does not hold good.Even in Calcutta, buses and the Metro has 2 languages, Bangla and English.Why impose a trilingual sign upon the South? This leads to The North Indian misconception of the scripts of the South as being completely inscrutable. My friend who is a non Bengali, living in Calcutta for more years than I have,once declared that she could read Bengali! I was incredulous! When a mini bus ambled along, she said, "..that's Esplannade to Anwarshah road ( or some such)..!"I was taken aback! Well, she travelled by bus everyday from college and had picked up the Bengali letters printed upon mini buses. Can't we learn some Kannada in this manner? Is that so bad a thing? Why should everything be adjusted for the convenience of the Hindi speaker/reader? Afterall, Karnataka is part of our country, we live and work here...I live in an area where there are a large number of Rajasthanis who are settled in Karnataka for generations, they speak fluent Kannada and ofcourse Hindi, I love that. I love the fact that my children now know Kannada and a smattering of Tamil and Malayalam too...

Returning to the issue of the flag, the Karnataka flag is recognized by all living in the State. it unites everybody in Karnataka irrespective of our linguistic, religious,regional and cultural differences. It is, in short, a good thing! It is not as if allegiance to the state undermines our national spirit. We in Bangalore celebrate our national holidays with gusto! The Lal Bagh botanical gardens have their flower shows in the week before 15th August and 26th January. These shows are a unique and magnificent tribute to the nation! Only the Garden City can celebrate Independence Day and Republic Day in such a wonderful  manner!
In this day and age of divisive, poisonous politics, we need more symbols of unity. Also, we must acknowledge the diversity that our country affords and even revel in it. How much richer we will be if we make this effort! If football clubs, religious organizations, political parties and other organizations can have flags why not the state of Karnataka?? The powers that be must realize that it is futile to beat and mould the diversity in this nation into a homogeneous whole. In fact wisdom lies in accepting this diversity wholeheartedly and making it the core faith of our nation.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Uncommon Common Man

Shri Bijon Kumar Sengupta, my grandfather, was of average height, had the trademark spectacles of the Bengali man of letters, although he had an MA in English and wrote an engaging prose in the language, he was never heard to speak anything but his mother tongue in the bangal dialect. So simple was this man, that one time, according to an oft repeated story of his youth, he had gone out wearing a raincoat because it was raining, and was seen returning still snugly ensconced in it although the sun was shining bright to everyone's amusement. He revealed later that he could not manage to open the raincoat when the rains stopped! This endearing, simple man spent 4 and a half years in various jails of the British Raj in the late 1930s. Even later, the British police had him under surveillance when he visited his in laws' place East Bengal. At the time of his arrest his rented tenement was surrounded and broken into. His wife, my grandmother was with child at that time....My grandfather saw his first born, my jethu, after 3years when my grandmother took him to visit his father in Presidency jail. Grandfather was released in the late '30s when the revolutionary movement in Bengal was in the wane due to severe repression by the British regime and untold suffering was endured by the families of the revolutionaries. My grandmother was lucky to get the support of her maternal uncles to tide her through the difficult times. There were 1000s of others who fought on, none the less.It was the sacrifice of these 'uncommon' common people that gave us our freedom.
This morning the Mr had put on the film 'Shaheed' on TV, the part on the fast in the jail for better conditions for the detainees was so moving. It spoke of the supreme power of sacrifice and a courageous adherence to principals. This was the strength of the youth of those times, otherwise how could they have striven towards such a seemingly impossible dream?
My grandmother never portrayed her husband as a hero, all the incidents related to him that she ever recounted pointed to and reinforced  the fact that he was a simple man. Incidents of his arrest and of him being followed by the police during his visit to his inlaws' place were recounted in a matter of fact manner. It was for us to absorb these facts and realise, over time, how heroic and brave was this 'common' man and his family. How firmly he stood behind his principals, how tenacious was his perseverance, how selfless was his dedication to this nation. He had never sought any recognition or 'compensation'. Him and his kind have brought us our freedom. Our freedom must be celebrated for their sakes, our freedom is pure and blessed due to them. I salute all these 'uncommon' common people of this great nation.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Some Photos of the event - 'Yamini'

All Night Magic With Dance and Music

Attended the SPIC MACAY cultural fest 'Yamini' at IIM B last evening, it was soulful, surreal and utterly mesmerising as performer after performer kept us glued to our seats (rather mattress) and evening turned into early morning without us being aware of the passage of time. I must thank my nephew A, for telling us about this event. The Mr and I arrived bright and early in the venue a bright moon was in the sky and the place was nearly empty. Huge mattresses were placed in front of the podium (it was an open air event) and blankets and shawls were placed in rows on the mattresses. There were rows of chairs too, at the back.We settled ourselves in the second row on the mattress behind two gentlemen and watched the place slowly fill up, it was a wonderful scene awash with moonlight and anticipation.

The first performance was Bharatnatyam recital by Mallika Sarukkai, a lady of great grace and elegance. She presented 3-4 short pieces. The one on 'Maricha vada' was the most dramatic and vigorous.I was under the impression that Sita had asked Ram for the golden deer to keep as a pet, however, in this piece Sita is asking for the hide of the beautiful deer, which shows Sita in pretty bad light in this day and age of conservation and preservation of nature and wildlife. In this interpretation, temptation and yearning for a thing that is out of reach brings out the worst in Sita...Ram also blesses maricha when he demon falls at his feet and the Gods celebrate the bringing into the fold of another 'non-believer' inspite of the fact that his call to Lakshman in Ram's voice would get Sita and the brothers into a lot of trouble. Somehow this interpretation brings to the fore the problems that I have with the story of the epic at several levels. The most entertaining of the pieces was a raunchy and life like interpretation of  'the lady with the parrot' in which the gathered audience showed no interest. The story showed a beautiful woman playing with her parrot and bedecking herself. Her lover knocks at the door, she opens the door in her own time, listens to her lover's false excuses for coming late and throws him out. She returns to her parrot and prefers its company! 'What is the cage and who is the parrot?' asked the one answered or cared. They were all busy asking her to perform the silly and worn to bits 'thumaki chalata Ram Chandra' even though the lady said that the 'lady with the parrot' was more 'her', so to say....Anyhow I made several guesses as to what the cage and parrot is but could not get the answer from her!! While coming to her hotel from the airport, the lady said, she saw a boy wearing a T-shirt with the line 'Dance is the Language of the Soul', she proves this with her dedication and involvement with her art. She says, many a times people have asked her 'what do you do other than dance...' , or 'is this your hobby?' implying that 'dance' cannot be a vocation, however, there are many artistes who dedicate themselves solely to dance and are content to perform, practice and enjoy dance for its own sake

The next performance was a violin recital of the brother sister duo Lalgudi GJR Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. They are a delightful pair with two very talented percussionists in their troop. They played several compositions including a playful jugalbandi kind of thing which I liked the best.

Next was the turn of the famous Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt inventer of the 'Mohan Veena', disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar and receiver of the grammy award. The Mohan veena is a guitar with a small sherical dome (as in a veena) added to it. Pandit ji screwed the adage on himself before the start of the performance, he has also added several strings to the instrument and makes it sound like a guitar, a sitar or a sarod at will and plays magnificent hindustani classical with great aplomb and gay abandon! He was not too pleased with the sound system here and said that the instrument sounds much better than it was doing. Good sound or not, he had us quite enthralled throughout and got into a pretty good mood himself. At one point he asked, almost pleading, 'May I play for 5 minutes more...', it was refreshing to see the humility of such a celebrity.

Next was a dhrupad performance of  Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, the moon had clambered to the middle of the sky by now and was slowly moving towards the horizon. We had had a hasty dinner at one of the all night kiosks outside the venue and I was rather sleepy. I lay myself down in a huddle next to the Mr wrapped in my shawl and asked him to wake me when Bombay Jayshri came on. Now Bombay Jayshri was the reason that we had decided to watch the whole night program till the end in the first place. We did not know that she was scheduled to perform at 4am. The kids were at home with my parents in law so we were at peace (advantage of having the in laws over)! We were interested in Vishwa Mohan Bhatt to and he too came on well after midnight, so it would be utterly useless to leave at 10pm without catching the big names! Anyhow there I was curled up in a stupour after Pt V M B's performance when a gurgling sound enterd my subconsciousness. It was Ustad Wasifuddin playing with his voice, saying that every kind of sound can emanate from the human body making even instruments redundant! His was making the sound of a percussion instrument in his rendition. It was fascinating! In fact his performance was a lec-dem on the dhrupad in the true sense. Well, I could not remain supine during the rest of the performance, he delighted, intrigued, entertained and energized us for the next 2 hours! His 'Shiva' was the most resounding and proves that music knows no religion nor caste or creed.

Finally it was the turn of Bombay Jayashri who is brilliant but has none of the charm nor the joyous abandon of Ustad Wasifuddin, where as the audience were actually singing with the Ustadji, he would spin a complicated taan and have the people repeat a swar at the opportune moment, it was magical! During Bombay Jayashri's cut and dried perfect and precise renditions the audience sat sober and restrained. She sung according to a pre rehearsed and perfected routine, not anything more nor less. However she is truly superb!
That brought us to the end of our first all night cultural fest together, the first that I have witnessed. We tottered home at 6am having witnessed close to 12 hours of soulful music and dance. How lucky we are, even now I am playing all that I have heard over in my mind and marveling at this great experience. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Memorable and Eventful Day in Ooty....

After the two adventurous days in Coonoor, we started planning for the optimum utilisation of our last day at Ooty before boarding the night bus back to Bangalore from there. The Brat Girl had treated herself to one of those green mangoes from one of the makeshift stalls at Lamb's rock with lots of the red masala on it and was paying the price by having to frequent the toilet at regular short intervals! She also managed to throw up the light dinner of bread and butter. We thought that we won't be able to leave Coonoor before noon. However, things started moving pretty fast after I got up by seven and had a long rejuvenating bath!! That gave me strength to quickly wake the kids and have then bathed and raring to go by 7:45. We had heard that there was a toy train at 8:30 or 9:30 ( different people had given different timings). We reached the station by 8:30 ish and was informed that the next train ( the 7: 45 one had left) would leave only at 10: 40 and the ticket counter for that would open at 10!! We decided to wait in the picturesque Coonoor station. We had breakfast and made ourselves at home on the bench next to the ticket counter. You can't buy the tickets of the toy train before hand, you have to get them half an hour before the departure of the train. We had breakfast there and watched the capers of a sparrow family who'd made their nest right above the ticket counter! A group of army cadets joined us in the wait a little later. The Mr got talking to them, they had missed the train ride on the day before because of no seats. The Mr suggested that they can easily take the bus to Ooty and that we were bothering with the train as we have kids who want to take the of the boys answered.." hum bhi thoda dekh lein....." I felt a pang for the young men, who had been children only a handful of years ago, they too were eager to take the toy train ride...
Closer to 10, three Fench tourists also joined the motley crowd outside the closed ticket counter. They were flammoxed by the train charts which had the name of the station as 'Udhakamandalam', the Mr assured the alarmed elderly gentleman that this unfathomable name was actually Ooty! Well, the counter finally opened only after the train chugged in! The armymen travelled second class (tkt Rs 3) and the foreigners and we took the first class tkts of Rs 80 + 100 Rs reservation fees! Two coaches were added to the 2 coach train that had arrived and we all setteled in! The ride is soothing with sweeping valleys and hill ranges on both sides and stretches of forest too and quaint little stations with their sweet names. While crossing the Coonoor station platform, something caught my eye, the pictures of a gentleman and a lady on the wall of the gents and ladies toilet respectively! These were actually pictures of a very English gentleman, complete with top hat and necktie, and a lady in a gown holding a parasol! I checked all the loos in the stations that came along and the same 'English' representation continued till Lovedale, I think and then a very Indian lady and gent's face replaced them till Ooty. The train journey became quite thrilling on the outskirts of Ooty where the train halted abruptly and we were informed that a man was lying on the tracks! At first we heard the man was dead, then it was slowly revealed that he was alive though bruised a bit. The Mr got off and took some pictures of the hapless man! Finally an ambulence was called and the man was removed from the tracks and we breezed into Ooty at 12 noon.
At the station we made a beeline for the first book shop we'd seen in these 2 and a half days ( although it was only a station push cart)! We got some picture postcards and a tourist map of Ooty and adjoining areas and a booklet on the Nilgiris. Then we took a room at a nearby hotel and after freshening up we set off to explore Ooty. We were wondered out of the lane aimlessly hoping to engage an autorickshaw to take us around ( the french tourists had also informed us that they'd take a 'tuktuk' around town that day) when we were accosted by a taxi driver who said he'd take us around for a very reasonable sum (Rs 600). We engaged him as we knew that the Brat Girl was a little wobbly and we were too tired to haggle. We stopped on the way for lunch and headed for the Botanical Gardens first. We took a leisurely after lunch walk through the place. It was beautiful. The speciality of these gardens in the hills is their terreced gardens . A section of the Ooty gardens was also terreced which was specially eye catching. Near the exist there was a shop built in the likes of a Toda hut selling different Nilgiri products. We were amazed to see in the market outside the gardens that the Ooty apples (plums) that we had bought in Coonoor were costlier here (Rs 25 to the coonoor 20) and later we found that they were not as sweet as the Coonoor ones either! There were fresh carrots too, attached to their leaves @ 10Rs for four!
We informed the taxi man that we'd like to see a few out of the way (and hence more interesting) spots too and miss some of the regular points in the standard itinerary, like the tea factory or boating at the lake. We'd already had a glimpse of the lake when we entered and we had already visited a tea factory and tea gardens at Coonoor. The taxi man offered to throw in a few exciting points like the earliest Toda village from which Ooty got its name, and the 9th Mile point if we paid 500more, we readily agreed. The next stop was the Doddabetta peak which is the highest view point in Tamil Nadu and affords a view of almost all the towns around Ooty. The place really had a great panoramic view of the entire region we had just visited. We had an invigorating cup of lemon tea and gazed at the great expanse of the valleys and ranges around. a light drizzle started while we descended from the peak. The cab man took us next to the Ooty rose garden inaugurated by Jayalalitha about 7years ago. The garden was in 4tiers and there were more than 2000 varieties of roses. It was a joy walking through bed upon bed of this captivating flower in all colours and sized imaginable, and it wasn't even the season for them! While returning  from the garden, our cab driver asked us how we liked the garden. We said it was very beautiful and extremely well maintained. He expressed satisfaction in our response. He lamented that mostly Indian tourists were less than impressed with the garden, they'd say that visiting it was a waste of time! One tourist had said that he had a garden better than this at his home. I laughed that this person was some kind of a 'Maharaja' perhaps! On the other hand, the driver continued, European tourists were always very impressed with the gardens! Surely many beautiful gardens adorned their countries, but they always found words of praise for this one, said the driver. While our own Indian tourists were the hardest to impress!
Thereafter, we took a path less trod to go to a Toda village. The village lay on a slope, the cab man instructed us to leave our shoes near a tree and then approach their temple to which he vaguely pointed us to. For the life of us, we could not figure out which the temple might be, it seemed like a cluster of ordinary houses. There was a man ambling about near the tree, he seemed reluctant to allow us to wander into that area. When our cab man cajoled him, he relented. He made us open our shoes and he lead us to a typical hut like structure some distance up the slope. I noticed there were a couple of stone slabs stuck into the mud a few metres from the tree, I wondered what they were for... The kids tread cautiously over the wet grass of the slope strewn with what looked like crumpled buffalo dung and bits and pieces of tree barks. We were not allowed into the temple, even the Todas are not allowed inside, we were told by our guide, only the 'priest' may enter, that too in traditional gear. the others dance around in front of the structure, made entirely out of natural stuff, not even ropes are used as they are man made! The women can come no further than the stone slab on the ground! ( Ahhh! that figures! Women are always at the periphery of organised religion, and bear the brunt of religious sanctions). The temple appeared to be a place where the men could dance and be merry away from the preying eyes of the women folk, an exclusive men's club of ancient times! The guide quickly added that the women of his clan were highly educated, infact his mother, said he, was the first Toda woman graduate! We were also shown the bufallo pen made of natural materials near the temple. He told us about the antiquity of his tribe and said that the name Ooty came from a tribal name which meant 'Man with one arm..' ( ofcourse, a different meaning is given in the tourist book!) which later became Udhakamandalam, then Ootacamund and lastly Ooty.... All the lands around the place were owned by the tribe, however the local potentates swindled the tribe and took over most of their lands before the British passed a law forbidding them to sell the land off! While coming down from the slope the Mr was invited into a Toda hut by an elderly woman who showed us pictures from a brochure which depicted the participation of the Todas in cultural functions. By this time our cab driver was calling frantically for us and the first Toda lady gradute was walking up the slope, returning from her evening walk. We took our leave from the elderly woman, she asked for some money, the Mr handed Rs 10 to her, she seemed pleased! I felt sorry for the woman, living alone in the small traditional hut shaped house, an accomplished performer, perhaps, in her hay day...We met our guide's mother, she spoke in flawless English, showed us the famous Toda buffalo, so sacred and indispensable to the Todas, would have loved to stay with that lady for an entire day, but alas...They had four buffalos in their open air shed, two babies and two adults, each had a name, the buffaloes listened attentively to our conversation. They were not as black as the buffaloes in the plains and a brownish downy hair covered their bodies. While leaving, I wished that they got many more buffaloes! The lady siad that was a very good wish....
Next, we stopped by at the Gymkhana club and the adjescent golf course where Hum Aapke Hain Kaun was shot, it seems. The Mr took pictures, I remained in the car with the mite, i was too overwhelmed by the Toda village! Thereafter we stopped at a majestic dam, our cab man lead us into the dam area through a gap in the wired fencing and told us to cross the dam by foot and try the echo point at the other end and meet him there. We ambled on to the dam and walked lazily down it. The valve on the other side of the dam was open and a water was coming out in a gushing force and was being lead out through a canal. We all tried the echo at the other, the mite was highly thrilled that he got an echo of his tiny voice too!
We sped off next to a secluded section of the pine forests of Ooty, where Roja was shot, we were told. We trudged off into the small wood, picking up pine cones and branches and pine needles. We fooled around a bit, then headed back hearing the plaintive cries of our cab man who was plagued by his passengers' propensity to vanish into whatever place he unloaded them on to! It was really difficult to tear ourselves from the pine forest, though! We headed off, next to another spectacular view point called something -something..Ninth Mile ( try as we may, we cannot remember what preceeded 9th mile!). This was a lightly inclined hillock which afforded a view which had pristine ranges and valleys and unadulterated woodlands on all sides. There was no town, no city, no cultivation and no sign of habitation all around, the sun was setting fast, or else we would have liked to spend more time here. I got a message on my cellphone welcoming me to Kerala! so this must've have been near the Kerala border somewhere, it was a grand end to our adventurous tour.
We headed back to Ooty town we stopped at the lake as our driver had promised to take us to a tea n natural oils shop near the lakeside. the shop was closed, we then headed back to the bus stop from where we had boarded our taxi. The Amman festival procession was due to arrive at any moment, we stopped at a shop near our hotel and bought teas and natural oils and chocolates. We staggered off to the hotel freshened up and hurried to the main road again to catch a glimpse of the procession which had men dressed up as Nag devta, Saraswati, and a mother goddess similar to durga, Amman. We had a hearty dinner at a Chinese restaurant which had the unique system of having the customers write out their order on a small pad, to avoid hapless waiters from getting thoroughly confused by the indecision of  fumbling diners, I am sure!

We boarded the night bus happy, contented and completely satiated. However we do hope to go back to Ooty again, it is the closest the South will have to a classic North Indian hill station. The town is congested but there are still numerous wonderful scenic places to be explored and enjoyed.