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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Here's looking at you, 2013 !

             
        Do you remember that iconic line from Charles Dickens, The Tale of Two Cities, ' It was the best of times, it was the worst of times?'  Today, when I look back at 2013, this line, more or less, sums up how I feel about the year that is almost over. Many years down the line, when I will be sitting with my grand children around me, telling them stories about their parents , about their ancestral home, about their grandparents, I may draw a blank about some years but certainly never about 2013.

My happiness quotient of the year

For the longest time ever I had been dreaming of renovating my house. At one point, in the latter half of 2012, I had all but given up on this ever happening. But God stepped in , in the form of two angels, Ram Chand and Lakshmi Chand Singh- the builder and architect respectively. My wish did get fulfilled this year.

Another important landmark, for me, was that my daughter got admission in a B school of her choice. Her results for the CAT exam came out in early January. She got a good score, calls from many institutes and then the final conversions. Another important landmark in this year.

Just when one despaired of  the political system ever getting the makeover so desperately needed, the Aam Aadmi Party hit the Delhi scene. I really don't know how well they will govern, whether they will fufill their election promises or not, but I do know that they have brought about the main change- the one that we, the people were so desperate for. The change is that the mainstream parties will never again be so complacent about their wrong doings, so unaccountable for the corruption and scams originating from their ranks.
Arvind Kejriwal has brought a smile to my face. I feel a sense of pride when I look at him- a sense of ownership. More power to him.

Tears in 2013 

Mom went this year. She went really quietly, without any fanfare, or hospital visits. She went when one was least expecting it. She went in just the manner she had lived her life- the least amount of trouble for everyone around her. I don't know if I ever told her that I loved her, but I do know that she loved me. She loved me just as a mother does- without any expectations,totally and completely.


This is why I will always remember 2013.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Recipe - Melt in the mouth Malpuas

I have come to the conclusion that deciding the menu for a lunch/dinner is as exhausting as cooking the said lunch/dinner. Consider this : I have a lunch tomorrow and for that I spent the better part of yesterday racking my brains for a decent menu. After agonizing over whether it should be a purely 'Indian' menu or a mix of Indian and western dishes , I did manage to come up with a somewhat  satisfactory menu.

Since it is a lunch, I thought I would make a couple of dishes today. Have just finished making malpuas, one of the two desserts, and am so happy with the way they have turned out that I have this irresistable urge to share the recipe. So here goes :

Makes approx 12 malpuas

Ingredients

4 tablespoon maida
4 tablespoon sooji /rawa
4 tablespoon malai
1/4th  teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon oil/melted ghee
2 tablespoon fresh curd
 approx 1 cup milk

Method


  • Take a bowl. Put the maida, sooji, baking soda, oil and curd in it.Mix well.
  • Add the malai and mix.
  • Now, gradually add the milk, stirring continously . Stop adding milk  when you get a dropping consistency. Mix well. The batter will be similar to a pancake batter or the batter we make for pakodas.
  • Keep aside for 15 minutes.
  • Take a non stick frying pan. Put two tablespoon of batter to make a small round. Add a little oil/ghee. Fry to a golden brown color on both sides. Remove.
  • Repeat the procedure for the rest of the batter.

Method for sugar syrup

In a pan put 2 cups of  water and 1 cup of sugar. Put 1/2 teaspoon cardamom powder and a pinch of kesar(saffron).Bring to a boil and then lower the flame.Cook for about 10 minutes more. Immerse the malpuas in this syrup. Close the gas.

To serve

  • Take a flat serving dish.Arrange the malpuas in this dish.
  • Garnish with almond slivers and a few rose petals.
  • Optional: The ,malpuas may be served with rabdi/kheer, kept  in another bowl.
Enjoy!










Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Debate : This House believes that cosmic ray shower variations cause environmental perturbation and I speak against the motion


I was never much of a science student and the very first opportunity I had of dropping science( before it dropped me)  I did so . Having parted ways life cruised on and one never thought more of mundane things like Gravitation and Newton and particle physics et el. That is till the other day when the son called up from school. My first reaction was panic, as in ' what is the matter- something must be the matter' . Well, he reassured me that no, he hadn't been expelled, that he was hale and hearty and that the head mistress did not wish to see me but could I please write a debate for him- he had been chosen to represent school in this physics debate....Bravely I asked, 'So, what's the topic?'. He started to tell and then said,' I think mailing you might be a better idea'. My first reaction on reading the topic(cosmic ray shower variations cause environmental perturbation) was to laugh. Second was to tell the husband and the daughter ( they laughed) and third was to sit down and start reading up. I did manage to come up with something ( enough for the stipulated 3 minutes 30 seconds) , and am sharing this so that other parents , science challenged, may take heart and plough on.

The debate
Cosmic rays are very  high energy particles  mainly originating outside the Solar System.  Visible to the naked eye as the Seven Sisters, the Pleiades are the most famous of many surviving clusters of stars that formed together at the same time. The Pleiades were born during the time of the dinosaurs, and their supernova remnants generated cosmic rays.
 Members of the Jury, distinguished teachers and friends: the theory that cosmic ray shower variations cause environmental perturbation has been mooted by a cluster of climate scientists, primary among them being Henrik  Svensmark. Svensmark has calculated the variation in cosmic rays over the past 500 million years and come up with a paper titled “Evidence of nearby supernovae affecting life on Earth” .He  shows how the variable frequency of stellar explosions not far from our planet has ruled over the changing fortunes of living things throughout the past half billion years. He  has proposed that galactic cosmic rays (GCRs) could exert significant influence over global temperatures  and  that the solar magnetic field deflects GCRs, which are capable of seeding cloud formation on Earth.  So if the solar magnetic field were to increase, fewer GCRs would reach Earth, seeding fewer low-level clouds, which are strongly reflective.  Thus an increased solar magnetic field can indirectly decrease the Earth's albedo (reflectivity), causing the planet to warm 
 Svenmark’s work reminds me to remind you of this well known quote of Carl Sagan:
“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff. –in short Svensmark squarely apportions all variations at the doorstep of cosmic ray variations.
I contest the claim  that Cosmic ray showers cause environmental perturbation by the following arguments:
It has been noted by climate scientists actively publishing in the field that Svensmark has inconsistently altered data on most of his published work on the subject, an example being adjustment of cloud data that understates error in lower cloud data, but not in high cloud data.
Lief Svalgaard says that “the energetic GCR that ionize the lower atmosphere are only weakly influenced by variations in the geomagnetic field or by solar magnetic activity. Both cause low-altitude ionization rates to vary by (≈10%) in the course of a magnetic reversal or during a solar cycle. Over decades to millennia the GCR influx to the Solar System scarcely changes.”

Sun and Bradley  re-examined the surface-based cloud data and newer satellite data for an extended period but they also could not find any  meaningful relationship between cosmic ray intensity and cloud cover over tropical and extra-tropical land areas.

Kuang   showed that the variation in cloud optical thickness could easily be explained by the E1 Nino activity rather than variations in cosmic ray intensity.
The 2007 IPCC  report strongly attributes a major role in the ongoing global warming to human-produced gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and halocarbons.
In conclusion I would like to say to those  in favor of  the motion that this theory is like quoting the famous line from    2010: The Year We Make Contact: “My God, It’s full of stars.”
 For me ,  a megatheory as grand as this requires much more evaluation. I believe that  extraordinary claims demand extraordinary justification.
Thank you


Friday, December 13, 2013

Of Satsangs and ego

                    

“ Beta”. The endearment floated melliflously somewhere over my head and out of the window ,towards the rose bushes I had been gazing covetously at, fretting why my  desi gulabs  were not doing as well as the English roses , my objet de l'attention.
 “ Beta”. Lost in the enjoyable  planning of the conversation I would be having with the gardener on  the  demerits of desi gulabs , planted at his insistence, viz a viz  the merits of the red beauties  I was enviously staring at, the word again curled up like a ball, ready to be thrown out of the window, but at the last minute snatched back from the jaws of oblivion by my intuitiveness. Yes, the  intuition,  maligned by husband and children, cause of much mirth to them , spoke in my ears, ”forget the gardener -look in front”. I  looked in front , straight into the impatient  eyes of a benign figure in white .
 Dear reader , if you find it oxymoronish  that a benign figure should have impatient eyes, pick no quarrel with me for I speak the truth . The benign  mouth stretched to form a beatific smile before opening up to say, " Beta. You looked distressed. Tell Ma Pritamamma everything. Ma will provide a solution for all the worries creasing your brows ". This sounded good and  I looked around for Ma whatshername  only to be pinched by my friend who whispered, “ she is Ma Pritamamma’. Realizing that my friend  must be right , she being the one to drag me to her satsang- , I said , “ my troubles are endless . The son has said he doesn’t want to do engineering after school  but not said what he wants to do , the daughter says that she has only  one drink once a month but I think  it is the other way round- once a month she has one drink and the other days she doesn’t count ,  the husband  thinks I  hyperventilate, the maid watches television all the time, even when rolling out rotis , so that our rotis take on shapes hitherto confined to mathematics books, the gardener …’ Here I paused to draw a breath ,  realizing that the shenanigans of the gardener would need some explaining  but Ma  expertly stepped into the silence of the drawn breath and addressing the sorority of sisters said ,”  this  proves my point about the importance of not letting our ego rule over us. Our poor sister here , ( pitying looks in yours truly direction) has allowed herself to be sucked into the fictitious  world of ego. For her it is my son, my daughter, my maid . She has not yet understood that there is no my. True happiness and salvation can be achieved only when we let go of …”

We are watching television, an euphemism for changing channels. Correction- the husband is watching while  I have one eye on the television and the other on the maid rolling out – you guessed it- rotis. And then, this beatific vision comes on the screen . She is being interviewed by Sharnab Hoswami.

Q .  One last question- any message for the viewers?
B.V ( beatific vision) I would just want to thank my followers, my bhakts , my satsangis for…


Whatever happened to the ego now?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

limericks for Arvind Kejriwal



                                                   
                                                         Arvind Kejriwal came as an agent of change
                                                   lured the voters with promises covering a wide range
                                                          the people fell for him hook, line and sinker
                                                          they hoped with governance he would not tinker
                                                         Alas,that he now dithers is indeed very strange




                                                       Hey Kejriwal, for you we  voted
                                        liked the idea of a corruption free government that you mooted
                                                        we thought you would make a great opposition
                                                         for the aam aadmi you would take a position
                                           that you would not honor the people's verdict is indeed not suited
                                                       
      

And here are the' Elections 2013 ' Awards


Well,  politicians, young and old, experienced and inexperienced, honest and corrupt, have all worked hard at winning ( and some at losing ) elections. We , the junta, have had an opportunity to meet them, greet them, look at them and hear them ad nauseum.  This happy fraternising has given us, the junta,  a chance to , ahem, gossip about them. The fruit of this gossip is a  list of awards compiled for different politicians, cutting across party lines. Some lucky ones have found mention in more than one category.    Here, Ladies and Gentlemen , are the 'Elections 2013 '  awards .  So, let's put our hands together for :

Award for the best poker face goes to : Dr. Raman Singh , Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. Never , even by the twitch of a wayward  muscle,  did he betray any emotion.

Award for the best stony face and  maintainer of a stony silence goes to : Dr ManMohan Singh, Prime Minister of India,  a nation of voluble people.

Award for the sweetest,  most honest, looking politician goes to : Shivraj Singh Chauhan.

Award for changing the face of Delhi politics goes to : Arvind Kejriwal , founder AAP

Award for the maximum number of promises made in a election manifesto  goes to : Arvind Kejriwal of the AAP.

Award for being the best best men to the groom, oops, Prime Minister in waiting: Jyotiraditya  Scindia and Sachin Pilot. 

Award for sporting the longest lasting sindoor and mangalsutra goes to : Smriti Irani of the BJP. ( longest lasting because obviously it is something she forgot to return when she quit the Balaji soaps).

Award for the oldest debutant in politics goes to : Rahul Gandhi , reluctant inheritor of a fabled legacy, the 128 year Grand Old Party.

Award for the brashest  young politician goes to : Kumar Vishwas of the AAP.

Award for the foot in the mouth syndrome goes to : Digvijay Singh alias Diggy Raja.

Award for being  the proudest papa goes to : Digvijay Singh alias Diggy Raja. His son , Jaiwardhan Singh, won in the Madhya Pradesh  assembly elections and so Diggy was smiling even though his party had lost in the Raja's own state.  

Award for the smoothest and most unflappable talker goes to : Yogendra Yadav of the AAP.

Award for the best interjector on the numerous ' Prime Time' debates hosted by the legendary Arnab Goswami goes to : Meenakshi  Lekhi  of the BJP

Award for the strictest shepherd goes to : Rajnath Singh, President BJP. He brought the wayward uns back to the flock.

Award for the best short term sulker and pouter goes to : L.K Advani of the BJP.

Award  for donning many hats over the years : Vasundhara Raje Scindia of the BJP and soon to be CM of Rajasthan.  You  will , ofcourse , want to know about the many hats and so, here goes: erstwhile princess , erstwhile walker of ramps- as in modelling ramps, erstwhile female Emraan Hashmi ( pssst- the famous lip lock with you know who) ,erstwhile, hopefully, madam arrogant , present favorite of the BJP brass, present favorite of the people of Rajasthan, present least favorite of Ashok Gehlot...

Award for having the most number of Q and A sessions in his public rallies goes to : Narendra Modi, BJP'S Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014.

Award for the best red brick wall and green palms  pose goes to : Abhishek Manu Singhvi of the GOP. Well, we do wonder if a certain someone ( remember the tapes...?) has mentioned how dapper AMS looks against that wall. Ahem, ahem.

Award for the best dimples in town goes to : Rahul baba , ofcourse.

Award for being the best Navin Nischol lookalike : Randeep Surjewala, spokesperson GOP.

Award for the most colorful kurta collection goes to : NaMo of the..

Award for the best roller of kurta sleeves goes to : Rahul G.

Award for the crispiest speaker goes to : Arun Jaitley of the BJP.

Award for the Chief Minister most removed from the reality of public opinion goes to : Mrs Shiela Dikshit, erstwhile CM of Delhi.

Award for the most impish smile goes to : Narendra Modi .( Just look at his face when he is on the subject of 'Shehzaada').

And now a special award- this goes to the Indian public for turning out in huge numbers to cast their vote.








Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Experience as a polling agent for AAP

I have always been a BJP supporter- it may have a lot to do with the fact that my parents were hard core Jan Sanghis and very anti Congress. However, things for me  changed considerably  when the Anna Hazare movement happened . The movement came at a time when one was just so disillusioned with the political scenario in the country- with a non functioning  Prime Minister heading an equally non functional government, with corruption in all places, with price rise etc. It wasn't that my loyalties changed but yes, there was a shift towards Anna and his ideology. As things turned out, Anna's movement fizzled out but it gave birth to a political party, the Aam Aadmi  Party . In the run up to the Delhi Assembly elections this newbie party promised many things, or rather over promised- but what arrested one's attention, interest and sympathy was the fact that they sounded sincere about looking into the malaise of corruption. So, while rooting for Mr Modi, chuckling over his one liners, looking forward to a government headed by him, one also kept track of the AAP. I definitely wanted AAP to do well in the Delhi elections- wanted them to get an encouraging response.

Just a few days before the elections I was walking with my friend, M, in the evening. We had exhausted  our usual topics ( maids, books, children, food...) and there was a momentary silence. I think it was to fill in that silence that we started speaking about the up coming elections. It turned out that M was also  a big fan of Arvind   Kejriwal and AAP and so we had a good time discussing politics before saying bye and returning home. Next morning I get a  call from M- she is all very excited and babbling incoherently. I finally am able to understand that AAP needs volunteers for election day duty, that M has already signed up and that , seeing how I was so enthusiastic about AAP, would I also like to volunteer? Since it had come down to putting my  money where my mouth was- I said yes. This happened in the morning of the eve of the assembly elections. In the evening I got a call that I was to report for 'duty' at six in the morning!

Six sharp we  ( M and I) were at the polling booth.  We hung around for half an hour , alongwith a posse of policemen, before the activity for the day began. It turned out that we were the polling agents for AAP - these agents are the guys who ensure, on behalf of their respective party, that no hanky panky occurs. After some time the poll agents for the Congress and the BJP treaded in- decent guys, infact all of us   knew each other well , and so there was an air of bonhomie from the start.

Well, polling passed off peacefully at our booth. Everything had been organized well- the election commission guys were professionals, well trained and no nonsense types. There was hardly any breathing time for us- believe me polling agents have their work cut out for them, but we enjoyed ourselves and felt very self righteous about 'doing our bit' for the fledgling party.

The best part ?  The polling booth was the booth for the  residents of our colony and the look on their faces on spotting M and me was to be seen to be believed- it was invariably, " what are you folks doing here"?

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Limerick for Tarun Tejpal

                                   


                                     

                                           There was once a ponytailed editor,
                                who said naughty things to girls without any deter
                                          he thought a lift was a place
                                     for his sexual hunger to be openly showcased
                                          that it led to a Tehelka is another matter
                               

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Silence of the lambs

                                   

                                                   You know the truth
                                                  hear the whispered words
                                                     see the pitying looks
                                                    yet   you, the wife,  stay silent
                                           
                                           The news is nothing new
                                                  you knew that he was wandering loose
                                            maybe you tried to reign him in
                                                 attempted to tame him perhaps

                                          The marriage you tried to save
                                                 the children you hoped to shield
                                                    the house you wanted to be  a home
                          The miracle you prayed for, to bring home the wayward husband

                                                     you are  left bearing his guilt
                                                  pride in tatters and hopes shattered
                                         left  to cope  with the slur, the stain. the stigma
                                                         and  you   still stay silent?
                                     
                                       because you know the onus is still on you
                                           of salvaging the situation, shielding the weak,
                                        holding the falling roof of the crumbling walls
                                                      Is this why you stay silent?

                                                                                                 
   

                                             

Monday, November 25, 2013

Key elements of a good debate


Most of Saturday was spent judging an inter school debate competition. The topic of the  debate was- 'Empowerment of women- a myth'. 57 teams participated , each team being made up of two speakers- for and against the motion. I had vowed to myself at the outset that I would do justice to my role as a jury member, that at no point would I adjudge with any prejudice, that I would not allow ennui to set in etc .All very holier than thou, but believe me , it is very difficult to sit through a 4 hour long debate session , in which the bar has not been raised by most of the contestants. At a certain point , even with the best of the aforementioned intentions, a jury member does tune out, or at the very most  listens with only half an ear.I found myself  alternately doodling or writing some points in between speakers, and to confess , sometimes even while a speaker was debating. The experience made me realize that most of the contestants were not aware, and even more sadly, had not been made aware of the key ingredients of being a good debater. 

Let's have a look at the parameters one should keep in mind when participating in a debate.


  • Content is King  Content is the substance of any debate. A good idea is to divide the  matter into arguments and examples. An argument is made up of premises  leading to your main claim. An example is a fact or piece of evidence which supports an argument-  "“History gives enough evidence to; ...”   Relevant examples should be used .When  presenting a particular argument make sure that the argument is logical (makes sense) and that it  clearly links your stand and the argument, and  the argument and the examples that are being  used to support it.  A  good idea would be  to choose an effective order for your arguments, rather than simply presenting them in the order they occur to you. If each argument builds  on the preceding one , then  start with  the most basic argument and continue  from there. If the  arguments used  are  independent, start and finish with a strong argument. 
  •  A good debate has points which  are relevant to the resolution.One may use  quotations  effectively and  persuasively as a  means of documenting one's point. A word of caution. While surfing the net for good quotes settle on one that most likely will not be used by others. The point is - do not use an obviously good quote or a quote of a famous personality in history. An example to illustrate this  point is: In the debate I was judging Jawahar Lal Nehrus quote " you can judge the state of a nation by the status of its women",  was used by no less than 10 contestants!
  •  Use statistics intelligently but do not  overuse them. Also, do not use questionable sources.  
  • Make a few, well supported points rather than many  unsupported assertions.
  •  Do not exaggerate at any point or  use rhetorical questions. Adding humour to your debate is a difficult act to pull off , and one must remember that the  purpose  of a debate is to persuade, not to entertain.
  • Use  points vividly and concretely and  be concise. Assume that the audience is intelligent but not very knowledgeable about the   subject.
  • Give a good Introduction -   In presenting the  introduction, you should aim to win  the attention of the audience, unify their thoughts, and set the tone for the debate. You may make your  introduction interesting by  using any of the following :
  1. Asking  a question, or series of questions. This will arouse interest in your speech.
  2. Telling a short anecdote that demonstrates your case .
  3. Making a historical, personal or timely reference. These will  adds authority, sincerity or an appreciation in the audience that you know your stuff.. For example, “In the first war of Independence in  1857, such and such happened ...” or “ The national dailies are full of the news of the treaty...”. 
  4. Using an analogy that continues through the debate . This is a very  effective method of holding attention.
  • Summary:  It is important that you both  summarise and conclude your debate. A summary reviews the important arguments you made and the stand you took.  A conclusion is an inference drawn from the summary.The summary should be short.
  • Conclusion: You should ideally conclude by using a quotation  or an  appropriate phrase which  leaves your audience on your side. The idea is to  conclude strongly and to  leave a positive impression. The conclusion may be something similar to “I expect that you too, Mr. Speaker, have come to the  conclusion that this resolution should be defeated.”  You may also only say “Thank you” , or " I rest my case". Whatever track you use, don't just fade away-  you must end in a manner that shows you know what you were saying was correct  and also that  what you said made a lot of sense.

  • Body language The best body language is the one which shows you are comfortable standing in front of the audience, you know what you are speaking, you know you are making sense and that you are not faking.
  • The best tip is:  Do not read out  your speech . Debating is an exercise in lively interaction between the speaker and the audience. One may use cue cards- but only as a point of  reference.The idea is to maintain eye contact with the audience and  hold their attention. If  a speech is read out  the audience  loses concentration very quickly.
  • Voice modulation is also impactful.   Speak clearly and forcefully, but do not shout. Modulate   the  volume, pitch and speed  for  important points . A sudden loud burst will hold the  audience's attention while a spell  of quiet speaking can draw your audience in and make them listen carefully..
  • Make hand gestures with confidence and not loosely. If you want to move about a little bit do so but remember you are not taking a walk in the park. If you are going to stand still, do so with confidence. Don't let your body betray any nervousness you may be feeling. Do not fiddle with your hair, your scarf or with anything. This will be construed as a sure sign of nervousness.
  • Diction and Pronunciation Use words that you can pronounce correctly.Write your own speech so that you use words you are comfortable with. there is nothing to be gained from using big words you don't understand or cannot pronounce.
  •  Saviore Faire and ability to adlib : Most  debates are on  current issues  so it is good for any debater to be  informed of what is happening  and what are the issues involved. Watching the news, reading newspapers and magazines definitely  helps . Keeping up and being informed will be of help if , for one reason or the other, one gets stuck at some point . Because you know what is trending you can save your face, and the day, by speaking impromtu and adlibbing where required.
  • Organization Structure your  speech well.  Have a clear idea of your own arguments and the examples you will be using to support those arguments. As you speak make a clear division between arguments and let the audience know when you are moving from one argument to the next. The key thing to remember is that what you are saying will be heard by the audience only  once and so it  is  essential that your argument be clear and well organized. The audience  should be able to answer the following questions after your speech:
         What was your main claim?
         How did you support your main claim ?
         Did you   rebut the oppositions  arguments effectively?

Finally, there is much to be said for being well prepared. Run through your speech as many times as is possible .Even better, try and speak it out in front of family/ friends or people whose feedback will be valuable and honest.

Happy debating !

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Books in 2013



 It is the big wall that has been the catalyst to my reading frenzy.  Not that there is much left of the wall- it has been hidden by a lovely bookshelf, wood of course , pride of my heart, second only to the daughter  and the son. Let me explain . We got our house renovated this year and the architect ( if for one reason or the other, or for no reason , you want your house  done / redone, look no further than RLDA Studio, Architects and  Designers ( www.rldastudio.com ) based in Delhi. Well, for the longest time ever, we had this absolutely huge wall in our , ummn- informal living room. My uncertainty before the ‘informal living room’ is because I have just been through a crash course in what not to call the different rooms. And so now I  know that there is nothing like the drawing room - it drew its  last , albeit long, shudderingly drawn breath somewhere in circa 2000, but since I have always been backwards by a decade I just caught up with  this. The drawing room has been replaced by  the living room, yes, the place we earlier ( and sometimes in a fit of  amnesia colored red by rebellion still do )hung out in. It was here that all the action happened ( well almost all).We fought ,ate, skipped, cried, studied  in this place. Now, the living room is the new drawing room, the master bedroom is the new  ‘papa-mamma’s room’, and so on.  But  to come back to the wall.  Lakshmi Chand Singh, partner RLDA, came up with the brilliant idea of  covering the wall with  a floor to ceiling bookshelf . The long and short of it is that when the last brush of polish had been applied and the last worker had moved out we were left with a beautiful home and a humungous book unit. I looked at the house with pride and the wall unit with horror. How on earth was I ever going to buy all the books needed to fill those yawningly empty spaces?

 Well, I haven’t bought all the books needed , but a fair amount of purchasing has been done. The books came home, in singles, in two’s and three’s and once  two dozen of them. The son would get a lot of  joy in arranging the books. Not arranging by genre, of course, but by their height and ‘weight’. Terrified lest he be ever admonished for not reading the books he was so diligently arranging, the fattest books went right on top, he  getting comfort from the fact that out of sight  meant out of  mom’s mind. The thinnest ones ( Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Animal Farm…) were right within winking distance.
The pattern just crept in on me- of  picking up a book and reading it whenever I got the time- so I started reading while waiting for the milk to boil, in the loo, mid morning, late afternoon, whenever. I read a lot of books the first month, somewhat less the next and now have established a comfortable pattern of reading in the afternoons.
Some of the books I have read so far in 2013 :



v    The illicit  happiness of other people by Manu Joseph- brilliant in most parts- impacted me strongly enough to agree to the son not opting for engineering
v    The Shiva trilogy by Amish- good -interesting reads
v     The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – good first half , not so enchanted with the second
v    The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald –brilliant but  depressing
v    Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov – I know it’s a classic, know that the opening lines are considered as one of the best openings- but the book left me feeling sick and disturbed.
v    Fried Green tomatoes at the whistle stop café by Fannie Flag- have already written a review of this marvelous book a few months back in my blog
v    The Zoya Factor and Those Pricey Thakur Girls by Anuja Chauhan-  found them shallow- good only  for a few laughs
v    The Help by Kathryn Stockett- excellent, have written a review earlier
v    The Litigators by John Grisham- engrossing
v    Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson- read it after Steve Jobs death- lingered on every word.
v    The Eagle has landed by Jack Higgins- a page turner
v    Chanakya’s Chant by Ashwin Sanghi- surprisingly good
v    Brick lane by Monica Ali- not at all enamoured of this one
v    Narcopolis by Jeet Thayal- ditto. Couldn’t really get it
v    Pelican at Blandings by P.G Wodehouse- do I need to even say anything- Wodehouse delivers, as always
v    Return of a King by William Dalrymple – W.D is one of my favourites- and so are his books
v    Love in the time of cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez- my first Gabriel Garcia M- and I loved it – loved every word.


The book I am now looking forward to reading is a book of poetry by my all time favourite  contemporary hindi poet , Gulzaar.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Teaching Modi History


Meenakshi  Lekhi  looked at the men and women seated round the table and said, " we will really have to hold some lessons on history for Modiji .Something on the line of 'history for dummies'.Hearing the word dummy a sulking  L.K sat up straighter and turned to her with twinkling eyes, " have a samosa, Meenakshi ". "I don't mind if I do. I am coming straight from the studios of Times Now .It was tough defending the historical bloomers of our Prime Ministerial candidate".  Here she faltered a little because Nirmala had by now  fixed a steely gaze on her. "Yes, Meenakshi dear. It was tough watching you answer those questions . You made enough blunders of your own- imagine saying Alexander the Great was defeated by Chandragupta Maurya."  Meenakshi gave a throaty laugh which won her some slavish looks from the men and glares from Smriti Irani  and Nirmala Sitharaman. " Oh, I think I came out of it pretty well. I just kept saying that I am coming to the answer knowing fully well that the congress spokesperson would not be able to keep quiet for long and I would be able to slime out." Of course it was Rajnath Singh who brought  some gravitas to the situation.  " Let us come to the reason why we are meeting", said Rajnath Singh. " This meeting has been called to chalk out a damage control strategy for Narendra Bhai and ahem, to ask our P.M canditate to give history a wide berth." " I quite liked the idea of those dummy classes". This was ofcourse Advaniji. " Advaniji, I think those classes are not a bad idea for many of us. We may not speak about Pakistanis and infidels so lovingly then, " an acerbic Rajnath was quick to point out. The Jinnah jibe struck home and a pouting Advani exited the room muttering something about updating his blog.

Just then  the door  opened and Modi strode in .Everyone stood up  reverentially and chorussed ,” kem cho, Modi bhai ?” (  the BJP brass tacks and the RSS pracharacks had all signed up for a 40 days crash course in ‘ how to speak gujarati better than a Patel’ and were showing off their newly acquired proficiency ). Modi  ji replied ,” I am fine ”  in chaste English. Seeing the shock on the faces turned towards him he hastily added, "Hu saro chuu" !  Turned out he had come to check out when his next rally was. There was an uneasy silence . Modi repeated impatiently, " where is my next rally? infact why don't we have it at Saharanpur?It is such a historic place. After all the first mutiny against the Mughals started from  here". There was a shocked silence. Jaitly said uneasily, " you mean Meerut, don't you? and the mutiny was against the British". " Same thing Jaitly bhai. After all , both Meerut and Saharanpur are in Eastern U.P. Teme samjo chho ?( you understand? ) " Mane samjatoo nathi . And you mean to say Western U.P , don't you "?  "Western  Eastern -it is all the same. As long as they are in India and not in Italy", chortled an upbeat Modi. The opinion polls are out with their latest poll - is  Modi's history better than Rahul's -and a whopping 79% of the respondents have voted for me.  " Have  they " ? whispered  the disbelieving BJP brass. 

" Yes . They say that Rahul is history".

Friday, November 8, 2013

Pablo Neruda's Poem- Die Slowly

A friend sent me these lines today. I read them and realized that I had been ‘dying slowly’ over a period of a millennium instead of living passionately for a lifetime.

Do share your thoughts after reading.

Pablo Neruda - Die Slowly

He who becomes the slave of habit, 
who follows the same routes every day, 
who never changes pace, 
who does not risk and change the color of his clothes, 
who does not speak and does not experience, 
dies slowly. 

He or she who shuns passion, 
who prefers black on white, 
dotting ones "it.s" rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer, 
that turn a yawn into a smile, 
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings, 
dies slowly. 

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy, 
who is unhappy at work, 
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty, 
to thus follow a dream, 
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives, 
die slowly. 

He who does not travel, who does not read, 
who does not listen to music, 
who does not find grace in himself, 
she who does not find grace in herself, 
dies slowly. 

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem, 
who does not allow himself to be helped, 
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops, 
dies slowly. 

He or she who abandon a project before starting it, who fail to ask questions on subjects he doesn't know, he or she who don't reply when they are asked something they do know, 
die slowly. 

Let's try and avoid death in small doses, 
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing. 

Only a burning patience will lead 
to the attainment of a splendid happiness. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Heartless Friend - a poem



                                           I  pass  you  by  haughtily
                                             my head turned away
                                            refusing  to  acknowledge you
                                          yes, you - once a dear friend
                                       
                                    We spent so much time together
                                           you always brought a smile to my face
                                  was there ever a day we did not meet?
                                           never ! not even one.

                                       How did everything change?
                                  Why did you become so cruel?
                                          When did my fall from grace start?
                                  Why did you snatch my smile away?

                                            Mirror, mirror on the wall
                                       you have always taken great pride
                                           in declaring who is the fairest of them all
                                  but now I take revenge in  declaring your greatest weakness

                                           Your weakness, heartless friend, is age
                                               not age that is  ageing but for
                                                      age that is  young
                                              and so,  I pass you by haughtily.
                                           
                                     
                                             

                                   
                                   



The Namokar Mantra




I had all but forgotten that once, in another age , another birth, I had been born a Jain. My second birth  ,after marriage, was as a Gupta and it was as a Gupta that I had been eating , praying and living. Of course, there were times when I would  hazily trace  my roots, such as when we would pass a Jain temple , or when someone would introduce themselves as Jains- and  by now having become a true blue bania – always on the look  out for fayda , with an ingratiating smile I would simper,’ oh ! that’s just so nice- my parents are also Jains”. Here my children would look as surprised as the guests but banias are used to dealing with surprised looks and the meeting would pass off in a very pleasant atmosphere  Post the meeting the Jainism part of me would be wrapped up and cordoned off  till needed again .

It was the evening of choti diwali  and we had gone visiting –  a Jain household. We were plied with   besan laddoos ,  kanji,  green tea and a host of other festive goodies. Just then the matriarch of the family announced that it was puja time. The family  graciously insisted that we were to join them. Shoes were taken off , diyas lit and the puja started. The Navkaar Mantra was to  be chanted nine times.  Faint memories of  the mantra reared their head through a cobwebby maze   of twenty five years . The first round  of the mantra was over before I could even open my mouth.  I listened intently to the words being spoken in the second round. In the third I merely mouthed the mantra. By the fourth round I was able to join in pretty well and by the ninth I had vowed that never again would I allow myself to forget the beautiful words .

Ladies and Gentlemen: Below is the Namokaar Mantra.

Namo Arihantanam
Namo Siddhanam
Namo Ayriyanam
Namo Uvajjhayanam
Namo Loe Savva-sahunam

Eso Panch Namokaro
Savva-pavappanasano
Manglananch Savvesim
Padhamam Havei Mangala




Namo Arihantanam
I bow in reverence to Arihants
Namo Siddhanam
I bow in reverence to Siddhas
Namo Ayariyanam
I bow in reverence to Acharyas
Namo Uvajjhayanam
I bow in reverence to Upadhyayas
Namo Loye Savva Sahunam
I bow in reverence to all Sadhus

Eso Panch Namoyaro
This five-fold salutation
Savva Pavappanasano
Destroys all sins
Mangalanam Cha Savvesim
And amongst all auspicious things
Padhamam Havai Mangalam
Is the most auspicious one


   The Navkar Mantra is the most important mantra in Jainism. While reciting the Navkar Mantra, we  bow down with respect for the   Arihantas, the Siddhas,  the Acharyas (heads of sadhus and sadhvis), the Upadhyayas  (those who teach scriptures to sadhus and sadhvis), the  Sadhus  (monks, who have voluntarily given up social, economical and family relationships)  and the  Sadhvis  (nuns, who have voluntarily given up social, economical and family relationships).  Collectively, they are called Panch Parmesthi (five supreme spiritual people). In this mantra we worship their virtues rather than worshipping any one particular person or Tirthankar. This mantra is also called  Namaskar or Namokar Mantra as we are bowing down.
There is no mention of any particular God or Goddess in this mantra. We  Jains do not ask for any favors or material benefits from the Tirthankaras or from the sadhus and sadhvis. This mantra serves as a gesture of respect towards those the Jains  believe  are spiritually ahead and  it also  reminds  everyone of their ultimate goal of nirvana or moksha.

My reincarnation as a Jain has well and truly  begun .



Sunday, September 22, 2013

Words lived - a poem

                                                 In the process of writing a book
                                                         full of  words which
                                                     the nuns in the convent
                                                   taught me many years back
                                                    lessons which I forgot then,
                                                   but are surprisingly  fresh now
                                                         I think of the words
                                           of  loyalty, responsibility, commitment
                               heavy words and to lessen the sombreness of the words
                                                                I smile
                                         my muscles stretch in directions unexplored
                                                         and so I stop smiling
                                                   and go back to the thinking
                            and now it becomes clear why I forgot all those lessons then
                                    because I would have to live those words
                                 each second, each moment, each hour, each day
                                      and when , blasphemy, I dared to turn away
                                                    from those heavy words
                                             brought back like an errant child
                                                   I am writing a book
                                                         of words lived
                                                 
                                               
                                                

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A limerick for Rahul Gandhi


                                        Why , pray, so much fuss over my dreams
                                       it's  enough to make even a dimpled prince scream

                                                        everybody is in a rush
                                                  to cuss about my use of crush

                                   nobody here understands the nuances of language it  seems




Saturday, August 31, 2013

Limerick for a Prime Minister

There was once a certain Prime Minister
In whose mind it did not ever register
That he would be called cool
Only if ever,  Ah ! if ever he did rule
Failing which his actions, oops inactions , would always be judged sinister

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Can there be peace without war ?

 The humidity of a typical Delhi August ! I look through the glass windows at the sky. Dark clouds are gathering. I cross my fingers for the much needed rains .Inside the house the air hangs heavy -it is  oppressive with unsaid  words and suppressed emotions. I look at her. She is still doing something on  her laptop and  managing to ignore me with studied nonchalence. I look down at my book and try to read some more. Ten minutes later I abandon the charade and look at her - " We need to talk". She looks up reluctantly and says, " what about/'. I tell her in no uncertain terms what  needs to be spoken . She replies and then I say some more and then she says some  and before we know it we are in the middle of a  heated argument. Ten minutes later I look out of the window. It is pouring . I throw open the windows. Fresh , cool air blows in and the humidity in the room dissipates. I look at my daughter. " Should we have some tea?" " I will make some, mum " and she waltzes happily  out of the room. There is a sense of peace in the room - the tears and acrimony of the previous ten minutes all but forgotten.

It leaves me thinking - is war necessary for peace? I had always thought of myself as a peacenik but now I realized I was moving towards a thought process which advocated that in some situations peace could only come after war. Consider this : King Ashoka  earned his place  in history for two reasons- the battle of Kalinga and the aftermath of the battle viz the peace that engulfed his kingdom, his people and the king himself. That one battle brought about an everlasting peace to Ashoka and a conversion to Buddhism.. Yes, the war saw many lives being lost, but it also ensured that no more lives would henceforth be sacrificed at the altar of a kings need and greed for power and supremacy.

America became the United States of America after a bloody civil war that lasted all of  four years, saw more than 600,000 soldiers killed and countless civilians butchered. What did the civil war achieve? Plenty. It saw the abolition of slavery, the coming back of the errant southern states to the fold and the dawn of the mightiest country in the world. One war- many gains.

Closer home , let's look at the role of 1857 in Indian history. Things were chugging along smoothly for the East India Company when out of the blue a regiment stationed in Meerut ignited the first war of Independence for India. The mutiny was brutally put down, an ageing and ineffectual mughal king beheaded,  the queen of Jhansi ,  and  other bravehearts killed- but 1857 did achieve a lot. It was the spark needed to bring peace in our minds and hearts- the peace that comes only when we know we are free.

Have you watched vintage Mahesh Bhatt movies? Arth, Saaransh  etc ? The commonality in his movies is the thread of violence and volatality , interwoven with angst, portrayed by his protagonists and antagonists. Peace does come but only after a celluloid eruption of  volcanic emotions  . His movies left the viewers battered and bruised but happy that Shabana Azmi could walk away into the sunset with her head high and the 'other' woman  still battling her demons.

Here, I pause. I realize it is important to also analyze what  exactly we mean by war. A person can be at war with himself or herself ; there can be a war carried out in words; an armed military conflict ;  a war on something- say food prices/ corruption  etc.  And now the important question- do we need a war today in India? against an aggressive neighbor in the north east ? against an ineffectual government? against a silent head of state? against dipping moral values ? A war  for peace ?


Friday, August 23, 2013

The Road Not Taken - Robert Frost





Why do I like this poem ? I like it because the poem is a nostalgic commentary on life’s choices; on the eternal dilemma of having to choose between two paths without having any knowledge of where each will lead. After having to make many choices over the many years of being in existence one can only laugh at the truth of the lines-
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:...
Here is the full poem...


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;



Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.