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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 ( ) 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 cafĂ© 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
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 .