Life brings with a plethora of experiences, each with a flavour of its own. I wish to share with all my readers these various experiences and observations that I have made during my time here on this planet. They may be funny, thought-provoking or simple reflections. I do hope you will find these enjoyable and interesting.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Ungrateful Kids Put Their Parents In Old Age Homes?

"How can you even think of putting your parents into an old age home?  How much they sacrificed for you when you were young!  How hard they worked to bring you up and to make you what you are today"!

Sounds familiar?  The rants about young people not having time for the old, turning very self-centred, selfish and callous?  About how the thoughtless aping of Western culture has taken over our society?

Well, think of this.  What I am going to say now may not exactly win a popularity contest.  But I can say hand on my heart, that while I am still struggling to come to terms with the inevitability of having to eventually move my mother to a place for assisted living (yes, this is where there is a gap between theory and practice and I belong to that generation stuck hopelessly between two totally differing sets of ideologies and don't find it easy), I can see how illogical the above accusations are.

Consider how old we are when we bring our children into this world (or how old our parents were when they brought us into this world).  Probably in our 20s or early 30s.  What were our energy levels then?  I am sure parents who had kids in their 30s would say that it was tougher for them than when they brought up their first kid who was born when they were in their 20s.  Contrast this with our age when we have to take care of our parents who are in their late 70s or 80s.  Probably 50+.  Very likely we have health issues of our own.  Our own nestlings have flown the nest and we are struggling to cope with our own challenges.

We invested a lot - mentally, physically, emotionally as well as financially when we brought up our children.  Leave aside the expectations (which may now have been belied) that our kids would be around for us, each day they did something silly like plastering their faces with food, throwing things around, taking off their clothes at the check out counter in the supermarket would either make us laugh or at worst cause us mild embarassment over which we could laugh later on.  There was a joy in seeing them grow, in seeing the learning process, the development.  It was a rewarding job.  Fast forward to the care we give our parents.  Start from the size - no matter how frail they be.  Managing their diapers is the very first comparison.  Obviously it is not going to be the same.  You can't carry them around and get about your business.  (Not everyone can afford domestic help or has a home big enough to accommodate one).  They don't gurgle and coo at you.  Often one is faced with hostile ingratitude. 

You cannot take your bed ridden parents out and carry on with your normal life, let alone show them off like you did your babies.  The challenges faced by the caretaker are immense and life comes to a grinding halt, making one sometimes wonder what one is doing.  Put your parents in an OAH and get about your normal life, there will be those inevitable moments of guilt at what you have done.

So just quit trying to compare what your parents did for you and even wanting to pay back.  Firstly, you cannot repay them for whatever they did for you.  Secondly, IT JUST IS NOT THE SAME.  Lastly, even if it sounds very ungrateful, insensitive, or whatever you would like to call it, when children arrive into this world, it is out of the parents own choice.  It is their pleasure to bring them up.  Having brought them into this world, it is their responsibility and duty to bring them up.  So while one would always hope that the children would be around for the parents when they need them, one cannot DEMAND or EXPECT a quid pro quo from them. 

Monday, 26 November 2012

Homes for the Aged?

"Excuse me, I am looking for a place for my mother.  She is 84 and unfortunately we are unable to look after her at home.  We are looking for a place close to home, where we can visit her often".

"Does she have any health conditions?  Does she suffer from BP or diabetes"?

"She has dementia and is on medication.  She is not disruptive.  She is bed ridden and incontinent.  We have space constraints and hence unable to provide home nursing for her.  That is why we need a place where she can get in-house nursing care".

"Sorry, we do not take bed ridden patients.  Besides if your mother is on medications we cannot take her.  All our other inmates are normal".

This is the conversation I have with a reputed home for the aged.  The same is repeated with an ashram.  Another is willing to take her but will not allow us to visit her for more than 5 minutes.

I have a couple of questions.  
  • We do not want to dump my mother somewhere.  We just want assistance in looking after her.  We want to visit her and spend time with her every day.  Why would we agree to look her up for an obligatory 5 minutes once in a while?
  • Why would we want their help if she was able to do these things herself?  Would we not keep her at home?  Besides as far as I know, most old people have some problem or the other - mental or physical - if not now, somewhere down the line.  Very few old people are fortunate enough to die with their jogging shoes on.  So what do they do with their "normal" inmates when they are sick?  Throw them out on the streets?  Or send them off to hospitals?  Even hospitals would not keep patients for longer than a minimum period.  They need their beds.  They need more patients.  They need a cash inflow.  Besides there is a genuine shortage of beds in hospitals.  So will they send them back to their homes?  Will the people who sent their "normal" elderly people off to homes take them back when they are very sick and bed ridden?
  • What age is the "right old age" to enter an old age home?  50?  No, too young.  You should be working.  55?  Not yet.  (The typical "too old for pigtails, too young for cocktails syndrome".)  60?  Yes.  But are you "normal" at 60?  Maybe, maybe not.  What if you are not?  Well, too bad.  You did not get the chance to benefit from the services of an old age home.  

So where do the old people go once they are bed ridden (not that the can "go" anywhere - sorry for the bad joke).  Insurance?  Well, upto a limit.  What of expenses beyond that?  God help us then.  I wonder if even He can help us.  And what of those who can't afford even insurance?  Well, we are supposed to be a socialistic state are we not?  So where is the social security?  Well, that is just it.  That is what we are "supposed" to be, but we are not.  We are a wolf in lamb's clothing er.... a capitalistic society pretending to be socialitsic.  

So then what do we do?  Euthanasia?  No sir/madam.  Illegal.  Suicide?  Criminal offence.  You will be persecuted, sorry prosecuted if you fail to execute (pun unintended) your crime successfully.  Not that they will execute you.  They will just make your life a lot more miserable than it originally was, in order to show you what misery really means, so that you realize that you were not really all that miserable at that point of time when you tried to eliminate your miseries by eliminating yourself.  May be life on the street was quite tolerable compared to life in jail.  

Friday, 23 November 2012

"A Puppet's Life Ends On A String"

So read the headline in the Times of India dated 22nd November 2012.  The news brought a sense of closure to a lot of families whose near and dear ones who had been brutally slain by terrorists on the 26th of November 2008.  

The high drama that had ensued following the taking over of the Taj hotel and a few other buildings in Mumbai had been beamed live across the world by various Indian television channels.  The world had watched the action with bated breath.  One terrorist had been arrested and put to trial.

The trial of the young man had not been any less dramatic.  There was so much irony about the whole situation.  A lot of "evidence" was "examined" despite the fact that he had been seen by billions on television as he went about on a shooting spree.  He was kept in prison under high security - for what purpose, God knows - to prevent him from running away?  Could he have run away?  Would the public have let him take two steps without lynching him and tearing him to pieces?  Security to protect him from the public?  Despite the fact that he had butchered so many people so mercilessly?  And seemed so unrepentant about it?  Despite the fact that the only obvious outcome would be for him to be hanged?
Would any other country for whose cause he was acting have given as fair a trial to an Indian who would have conducted himself in a similar manner on their soil?  He would have been stoned, publicly beheaded, flogged or subjected to any other form of punishment that does not bear thinking of.
Yet our country thought it fit to provide him with a lawyer to fight his case, and if the press be believed five star treatment in jail.  So it was the tax payers' money which was spent to keep a man who killed so many of us alive all these days.  To quote a cliche, this happens only in India.

Having said all of which, there was a sense of deep sadness when one read the news.  Here was a young lad, the son of an impoverished family.  A young boy who had been misled into believing he was doing his country a favour.  A country who did not respond to his plea for a lawyer to fight his case when he was arrested ..... a country which did not respond to the notification about his execution ..... a country which did not claim his body.  His last wish was to meet his family.  A wish which was not fulfilled.  According to the papers his last words were "Allah kasam maaf karna, aisi galti dobara nahi hogi".   What a waste of a young life.  What was the use of such a late repentance and realization that it was a "galti" of a gargantuan proportion?

Maybe this will act as a lesson to other youth going his way ..... a lesson that there is no glory in this kind of death, a lesson that the people for whom you think you are laying down your life do not even acknowledge you once you are trapped, a lesson that not even your family acknowledges you later on.  Or will it?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

To Live or ..... - That Is the Question

Life has its strange twists and turns.  Take for instance the fact that I went to get my mother who suffers from dementia to stay with me.  She had been with my sister for a year and I thought it was only fair that I take charge now.  My sister is now a senior citizen herself and has grapples with health issues of her own.  It did not seem far fetched to think that a day would come when she would be forced to send mom to an institution.  This was something I could not bear to think of.

It was precisely to avoid this situation I brought her along with me.  I was really happy to see the change doing her some good - till the 4th day with me.  On that fateful evening I took her for a walk and despite my holding her hand, she tripped and fell, breaking the head of her femur.

What followed was no less than a nightmare.  A hemi-arthroplasty (surgical replacement of the ball of the femur) followed.  She came out of the ICU disoriented, got a urinary tract infection, blood infection, a fever of 105 degrees Celsius, bed sores, her dementia worsened tremendously and she became totally bed ridden.  She needs at least two nurses at a time to turn her over, bathe her, clean her ..... which makes it logistically difficult to keep her at home with professional help.  So I have now ended up in a situation which I wanted to avoid in the first place - having to send her to an institution.

Leaving aside the pros and cons of institutionalization, old age homes etc., I was thinking about her situation and that of many others in our country.  She has two daughters.  My dad was in government service which meant he had access to the central government health scheme.  This makes all the difference when a situation like hospitalization arises.  What do people like us who have no such facility do?  Yes, we do have medical insurance right now.  What happens when we eventually stop earning and can't pay our premiums?  What happens in the event of long drawn out hospitalizations, even if we pay our premiums? What happens when we have no one to do the running around for us?  Can we afford to go to an old age home or to an institution?  OK, may be we can find ourselves a place in a retirement home.  But can everyone afford that?  There are many in this country who live on the brink of existence, lead a hand to mouth existence.  What are they to do, where are they to go?

I don't want to sound morbid, but I cannot help think ..... what happens to the billions of people in this country who are in situations worse than us?  Do we all commit suicide?  We already have farmers committing suicide, unable to pay back their debts, we have students buckling under pressure committing suicide, we have khaps killing young people who decide they want to spend their lives with each other, we have desperate young women who are tortured by husbands and in-laws committing suicide, ......  Is this lack of care in old age and illness going to be one more reason to be added to the list in times to come?  Is it time the government decriminalized suicide?  Or is it high time they did something for people to encourage them to live?

Monday, 24 September 2012

A Getaway To An Unusual Destination In Search Of Inner Peace

Life was getting too monotonous and I was craving a change.  A break was in order and I needed to head out to some destination where I could snatch a few days of peace and tranquility.  While a beach, a historical place, temples or a holiday resort would seem to be the obvious choices, that was not what I wanted.  I seriously wanted to get away from everyone and everything to some place that could calm me down and let me be just by myself and with myself.  A degree of solitude was what I craved.

Although the banks of the Ganga would be a good spot to do "Hari Hari" (chanting the Lord's name), it did not appear to me that I would get much quiet or peace there.  So I decided that I wanted to get away to some ashram where I could do all of the above.  The first choice was the Chinmaya Vibhooti ashram (an ashram of the Chinmaya Mission) located in the Western Ghats in a place called Kolvan (Mulshi district, Pune).  It is about an hour away from Pune by car.  I was anyway planning to visit Pune and this was such a convenient option.

Add to that they were organizing a 5-day Meditation camp beginning on the 4th of September.  Since I love meditating, have already been introduced to the kind of activities and talks at the Chinmaya Mission, I decided to take this on.  This, however, was the first time I would do anything like staying 5 days in an Ashram.  

With many apprehensions (who does not have them when one embarks on something entirely new?) and some excitement I set off to the Ashram on the evening of the 4th.  It was a cool, cloudy day and the drive was absolutely heavenly.  The hills were lush after the recent rains.  I stopped en route for a few pictures.  Not having ever been in this direction, the cab driver stopped a couple of times to ask for directions and to confirm we were headed in the right direction.  The last bit of road was more than a bit "hol(e)y" but we got there with no major problems and in time for the registrations.

Enroute to Kolvan
Chinmaya Vibhooti - A front view
The programme of the day was to start off with Swami Swatmananda's introductory lecture.  However, he was stuck with some programme at Mumbai at the Sandeepani ashram.  So we were shown a video recording of a lecture by Swami Chinmayananda on Chapter VI of the Bhagavad Geeta which he had given in the U.S.  It felt so good to hear his talk after so long.  It was his lectures that drew me towards spirituality.  It was a very nostalgic evening and I could not have asked for anything more on my birthday.  This is something that will stay with me for life.

The next few days were spent practising meditation, listening to lectures on Chapter VI of the Bhagavad Gita and practise of Sadhanas (spiritual disciplines) in daily life, practising solitude, using every spare moment to take pictures of various birds that I saw (some of them for the very first time).  It was also an opportunity to meet many new people and make some new acquaintances and friends.  In short, it was an idyllic 5 days that I got to spend in the lap of Nature.  

Here are some pictures of the place that I would like to share with you.

Chinmaya Maruti Mandir - A front view
Chinmaya Maruti Mandir
View of Chinmaya Vibhooti on the banks of the Walki river
A path leading from the ashram to the river
A view of the central square of the ashram
Ganesha Mandir
View of the mountains covered in clouds from the Ganesha Mandir
It couldn't get more peaceful
The river Walki
Mountains in the mist
As you can see, it could not possibly get more peaceful and tranquiller than this.  This was the perfect antidote to the bustle of daily life, the stresses and strains of routine life.  The fresh air, cool , lush surroundings, the pure and pristine atmosphere were all sufficient to bring a semblance of one's real self to oneself.  I always maintain that being with Nature, observing and appreciating all that has been put here by the Creator for our benefit is the best worship we can render unto Him.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Why, oh why?

You don't want to live you say
You wish you were never born
Why do you have to live, grow old
Go through all these ups and downs

I wish I had answers to these my friend
I wish I only knew
If only it were in our hands
To decide what we wanted to do

I could talk to you of Karma
I could talk to you of souls
Of rebirths and reincarnations
Of we being part of that whole

All I can say to you my dear
Is I know I am here today
I know I may have to be here for long
Before I go another way

It helps me not to groan and moan
And make my life a pain
For kith and kin and friends and self
T'will all be but in vain

I need to live with myself
Before others can live with me
Tell me my friend how I could ever do that
If I just couldn't love me

That is why my dear
I need to laugh through joys and pain
Through clouds, through rain, through sunshine
Through losses or through gain

Let me bring joy to others
Let me laugh through joys or tears
Let me bring joy unto myself
And dispel my irrational fears

For yesterday is dead
Tomorrow is yet to be
Today is all that I have
With that let me happy be

Saturday, 22 September 2012

The Krishna Key

Yadaa yadaa hi dharmasya
Glaanirbhavati Bharata
Abhyutthanam adharmasya
Tadaatmanam srujyamyaham

Oh son of Bharata (Arjuna), whenever righteousness is threatened and whenever unrighteousness is rife, I shall reincarnate in this world.

Paritranaya saadhoonam
Vinaashaayacha dushkrutaam
Sambhavaami yuge yuge

I shall keep incarnating in every age (yuga after yuga) in order to protect the sadhoos (the good), to destroy the evil doers and in order to re-establish the order of righteousness (dharma).

That was the promise Krishna had made to humanity through his discourse to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra - the discourse which makes up the subject of the Bhagawad Gita.

The Krishna Key - The title of this book by Ashwin Sanghi sounds very intriguing. It is all the more intriguing when you read the blurb which says it is the story of a young man who thinks he is the tenth avatar of Krishna - the Kalki avatar - only he is a serial murderer.

Open the book and you see a map of the kingdoms during the Mahabharat era. One of the features of the book is the rich illustrations throughout, keeping the reader's interest alive from the beginning to the end of the 464 pages.

Each chapter begins with a section of the story of Krishna, narrated in the words of Krishna, followed by the main story. The pace of the novel is extremely racy and makes for very exciting reading.

The sheer depth of research undertaken by Sanghi comes through as one reads on. The story takes us to Kalibangan and thereon to various parts of India in Gujarat, Rajasthan and North India on the trail of an ancient secret – Krishna's legacy.

It is fascinating to read about Krishna's Dwarka (then known as Dwarawati) which now lies under the sea off the coast of Gujarat and the Yadava clans who lived on the banks of the Saraswati. Sanghi comes up with very interesting theories about how these clans got scattered due to the drying up of the river, with some of them moving westwards towards Sumeria (modern day Iraq) and the rest towards Vrindavan and Mathura. If one were to believe his theory, many of the cultures in what was considered to be Sumerian civilization originated from Dwarka and the Sumerians and subsequent civilizations in the area were actually descendents of the Yadava clans. Hmm..... far-fetched may be, but no doubt interesting and not totally unbelievable, given the way he has presented it. (Of course, he has clearly made a disclaimer at the beginning stating that "no claim regarding historical accuracy is made expressly or implied"). It is equally mind boggling to see how he puts together different aspects of our Vedic culture like Vedic Mathematics, the emphasis on certain numbers which are considered to be auspicious such as the number 9, the numbers 18, 108, 1008, 10008, the concept of pyramids and their properties of concentrating energy, the six pointed stars, ..... you name it and it is there. What is even more amazing is the sheer logic which makes everything appear so plausible.

The plot of the thriller is merely a framework to present this very gripping perspective on our Vedic sciences and times. Could you ever imagine that the Atlantis could be Dwarka? Well, why not, if you accept the author's line of thinking? Can you accept that Mount Kailash is an alchemist's pyramid? Is there any way you can connect Mount Kailash, Dwarka, Mathura, Vrindavan, Somnath, the Taj Mahal, Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and the Mughals?????? Well read the book to find out.

As for the plot of the story, it is very entertaining and fast paced with surprising twists and turns.
Occasionally one does find certain parts slightly repetitive and there are a few places where proofing has been faulty. However, these faults have been rectified ( in the website of the author .

Definitely in the "must read" category.  This can be described as the Indian search for our version of the holy grail.

This review is a part of the at . Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A Love Story - A Novel

A Love Story - A Novel (Author: Varalotti Rengasamy)
The author is a chartered accountant by profession - (a mofussil accountant as he derisively refers to himself). He is also an author of many Tamil novels and has written short stories for English and Tamil magazines as well.

The book “A Love Story :  A Novel” is a very simple love story of a young man (who on the insistence of his father takes up the job of a bank clerk and writes novels as his passion in his free time) and his classmate from college who makes it big in the world of finance.

A misunderstanding on both sides ensures that the two go their own ways while they continue to pine for each other. Of course each one thinks that the other is married and has kids with someone else.

An elderly psychiatrist who is friend and counsel to our young author helps the two to find each others after a long gap of a decade.

The simple story line, plenty of idealism, some clean romance - all make for a very charming narrative.

One is struck by the idealism and value system that is described in the story.  I doubt one can find these values being practised in the real world.   It is probably this very fact that make it all the more pleasant to read.  Let us say it helps the reader to escape into a world of ideals – honesty, commitment, love (not just the romantic kind), power of conviction, forgiveness ..... Add a liberal dose of emotions, drama, passion and sentimentality (which may or may not be everyone's cuppa tea) and that about describes the book.
If one can accuse the author of anything, it would have to be a few over-dramatic, over-sentimental dialogues:

Tell me darling, why is the world so full of love”? Kamla asked her husband in a choked voice”.

The author's sense of humour surfaces here and there in his description of events and characters:

The boys now had a very funny expression on their faces. Something that you would have seen on the face of a ten year old boy when the dog he had been chasing for a while, stood in its tracks and stared back at him, ready to attack”.

I can never stop marvelling at the details he brings in. For example he talks of treating psychiatric illnesses through counselling or through “chemical imbalance therapy”. Reminds me of Munnabhai's “chemical locha”. :-D

His metaphors also are very interesting:

“ 'Do you remember the time we had to drive down to Bangalore? I think it was last year. It was late in the night. Our car's headlights could show only the next 100 feet. But with that light didn't we travel the entire stretch - some 250 miles plus?  We can't expect our car's lights to illuminate the entire road to Bangalore from here.  Enough that we know what there is in the next hundred feet.  Ask you friend to believe in God. He is the one who'll show the road. And don't try to illuminate the way with your intellectual highlights dear' ”.

Weaving in stories from our mythology and comparing it with a situation in the story is a trademark of this author. He intersperses the story of Narasimha avatar of Vishnu destroying the demon king with a part of the story to illustrate the parallels in the way the lady accountant demolishes the cads who try to mess about with the elderly doctor and her husband.

Like all other writings by this author, the central theme revolves around love of the purest kind.....

"All of us have been and still are in love.  With our parents, our children, brothers, sisters,friends, lovers, wives ....In fact we live only so long as we can love.  The moment we lose our capacity to love, we lose our capacity to live as well.  A life without love is not living, but a mere existence".

or God's love for us and the power of prayer:

"The great Lord sitting above, who acts deaf when we pray for our own welfare, springs into action the moment He hears our prayers for others.  And while granting such prayers, the kind Lord ensures our well-being too".

Sounds too romantic, idealistic and simplistic?  Almost Utopian?  Well, I for one am not complaining.  I share the author's opinion that a world where people were less greedy and more caring would be a heaven on earth.

All in all a very pleasant read which keeps the reader enthralled all the way to the end.

Monday, 30 July 2012

The Lighthouse and I and Other Ramblings

From Google images

Life sometimes sucks.   Yes, it does for all of us. Even when we try to kid each other, trying to convince ourselves about how "privileged" we are to have been born human on this planet. Maybe true - sometimes - but not when one is feeling down in the dumps. When life sucks, some of us do wish we were never born. We look for some source of inspiration or even some means of escape, depending on how we are mentally tuned at that moment. We wonder why we are here at all. We try to comfort ourselves - try to convince ourselves that there is a reason why we have been put on earth. I certainly wonder, then, what I am doing with my life. Still trying to figure out my raison d'ĂȘtre (reason for existence). There must be some reason which we don't know I am told. I agree, maybe I shall find my life made a difference to someone, sometime. But the catch is, it is equally possible that my life did make a difference to someone, somewhere but I shall never know. I was not meant to know, which means I shall still be left with the question with which I started out. 

I saw a lovely card this morning on a networking site which said 

Lighthouses don't go running all over an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there shining.
    -Anne Lamott

Well, I guess, since everything happens for good, there is a good reason why I should be kept within the four walls of the house. Whatever purpose I was meant to serve will probably be served very well within those four walls or probably is already being served. 

 It is good, to practice distancing oneself from the ego and just viewing oneself as a third person on the stage. Stop thinking of oneself as the "doer". Thinking one is the "doer" leads to a lot of pain. The moment one switches to thinking of oneself as the instrument in the hands of the DOER, one realizes that one is that lighthouse which shines not of its own doing, but only because the caretaker came and switched on the light. So has my CARETAKER switched me on, so that I am here to do whatever it was I was supposed to do. My job is to stand at the edge of the island shining come rain or sunshine and hope that some boat sees me shining there and comes in safely to anchor.

So yes, I shall stand and shine for all time to come, till the CARETAKER thinks it is morning and switches off my light. 

Thanks dear friend for waking me up to reality this morning with your status.  It will certainly carry me a little longer till the next time I wonder what I am doing on earth. That is part of being human.

I don't think it is wrong or bad to ask oneself this question once in a while. It spurs one on to think beyond the everyday, material boundaries of what we refer to as "life". It is good to think of this as being a school, where we come to learn some lessons. Life is an excellent if sometimes a bit ruthlessly harsh teacher. In that case, I wonder what lessons I have come here to learn from her. One of the lessons that Life nudges us endlessly into learning is to give up the EGO. This is true for EACH ONE of us. Till we do so, she just keeps hurting us so much, that we are forced to sit up and take notice.    (Life is allowed to do that, unlike the kind of school teachers we know). There are other lessons which are specific for each individual. I believe in rebirth and karma. So I believe, there were some lessons from the past that need to be relearned, reevaluated and some tests to be taken. A couple of important lessons I seem to need to learn seem to be how to control my anger and how to be patient. I love Life's teaching methods (yes, even if it means having my head flattened out every morning)  .   (As a teacher myself, I can't help examine her methods ). What she says is: I shall put you in various situations. Firstly try to figure out what I am trying to teach you. If you can figure that out, question it. Don't accept anything blindly. However, at the end, I shall see to it that you jolly well agree with me.  I seem to be a student who sleeps through her lessons. Only on the day of the exam will it really be revealed what I have learned and what I have not. 

With due respects to Tennyson: "Our's not to question why, our's not to reason why, our's but to do and die.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Big Fat Indian Wedding Drama

Some terminologies and concepts bring a smile to the face. Indian weddings, when they are not driving people (read the bride's family) to tears, generally serve as a cause of tremendous amusement. 

Just take for instance the way the weddings are orchestrated. The age old custom of "arranged marriages" was the norm till such time as "love marriages" appeared on the scene. To a casual listener, not quite familiar with the Indian way of thinking, both would sound odd. 

Arranged marriages generally implied (in earlier times) that the bride and the bridegroom did not know each other and probably did not even see each other till after the wedding ceremony. That they did not see each other during the wedding ceremony was taken care of in many communities by making the bridegroom wear a sehra (a decoration of flowers or beads covering his face), the bride had to wear a ghoonghat (a head dress to cover her face). Probably they were making that one or the other did not faint after seeing the others' face and the wedding did not fall through.  The spouse came gift wrapped, so to say, and the gift could be seen only after the priests had put their stamp of approval on the proceedings.

The rule (followed by people of decent upbringing and of good cultural and traditional values) says: "You shall not love before getting married.  It is a shame for the family and for the community.  Once married, it little matters whether you love your spouse or not, our responsibility is done.  Love/Like/Lump him/her."

I am reminded of a tweet by a certain famous personality goes, "All your life you are taught not to talk to strangers; Suddenly you are asked to sleep with one!" Well, that is the very Indian concept of virtue. 

Oh well, this concept obviously did not go down too well with some youngsters. Or maybe Cupid is very favourably disposed to certain types. So he introduces them to each other and they fall very much in love. Parental and societal disapproval rate is pretty high - "Aaj kal ke chora chori kya love shove ke chakkar mein padte hain" or "onga paiyan oru ponnai luv panaran" translated as "your son is doing love to one girl" (Please don't get any wrong ideas here.  It is just the colloquial expression for "to be in love".  Every possible means at their disposal gets deployed in the war against youngsters who "do love". The moral police of the country has recently started rounding up Romeos and Juliets holding hands at street corners or in the local park.  Other self help methods employed by the parents include locking up the girl at home, getting judgments passed against the couple for indulging in such extraordinary behaviour such as loving each other or worse still marrying the person they love (the khap panchayats are very helpful and obliging to parents in this matter), emotional blackmail - parents having heart attacks, threatening suicide or refusing food (wouldn't it be a good idea to distribute this excess food to the starving millions in this country?). Now the youngsters are only left with one option viz. to elope, go to the nearest court or temple and get married. No parents, no shamiana, no dowry, no wedding trousseau, no guests, no five star catering, no gifts, no wedding photographs, no album, no video-shideo .......  What an anti-climax.  After the excitement of a whirlwind romance, the wedding becomes a very sedate one.  They did break a very important rule of Indian married life, did they not?     

Well, the younger generation is pretty smart. Or at least some of them are. They do not like the idea of an arranged marriage, they “do love”, they want to get married, but they do not want to miss out on the side benefits – obviously they have to keep pappa and mamma happy. So what do they do? Sweet talk the old man and old woman and make them believe it was their idea in the first place to get these two married. The parents are happy to believe that it is an arranged marriage – parents arranged it, parents spent the money, parents invited a lot of guests, spent a lot on trousseau, shamiana, band-baaja, food ........ and happy young couple get a lot of gifts. They are happy posing with parents for the photographs and videos. They have a long line of visitors waiting with bouquets / gifts / envelopes containing cash in their hands to be handed over to couple; the obliging couple pose with them too, with bouquet and have a picture taken (guests now can have photographic evidence to prove they did not partake of the food for nothing. They honourably spent money to gift the couple something or other. Besides the couple and their parents have an idea of who gave what / how much, so when they are invited to said guest's son's wedding, they will pay back (in terms of gift or cash or boquet) to same tune. Such a wedding where everyone is happy is called a "love cum arranged marriage"

The parents are no less creative these days.  They introduce the eligible prospectives, allow them to talk for anything varying from 15 minutes to a week.  Then they "convince" the youngsters that the choice was entirely left to them and that they had the last word in fixing the deal.  Such weddings are termed "facilitated weddings".  Parents only "help" by "introducing" the main parties to each other. 

Now things have gone one step further.  This is the age of IT.  So everything is decided by the computer.  Computer plays role of astrologer.  Computer plays the mediator by introducing parties with similar interests to each other.  Wedding photos are put up on Facebook for everyone to see.  If the wedding ends in misery or divorce, it gets discussed on various forums.  Virtual friends help sort out issues, or advice consulting a lawyer. 

And soon the next generation arrives on the scene to carry on our rich and varied heritage or to add more variations to it.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Woman, Cast Aside Fear And Live!!!!!

Being a woman is not easy. Not in India, in fact nowhere in the world. If we Indians have our set of problems, women in other geographical locations have their own as well. Those might be different from what we face here in India, but by no means would they be any less problematic.

To start off with, let me sum up the situation in India. I was born in the early 60s. My life was considerably different from that of women born earlier in this country. Or that is what I thought. May be, being born in a "typical middle class family"(this was something to be proud of till a decade ago, when "middle class" suddenly became a kind of abusive word - one considers them down market today, but let that pass), I was brought up with values associated with that class of people, but had plenty of opportunities to study, to be "equal" to any male member of this society. Although I considered myself blessed when I compared myself to women of previous generations, "equal" always came with some riders - before my times, during my younger days and it continues to be that way even today.

The biggest limitation one faces as a woman is safety and the freedom of movement. Older generations of women never had that freedom. Period. They lived indoors and were always escorted either by male members or other women and their mobility was limited to going to the local temple where they met other women, gossiped and returned home. Mixing socially (other than within the family) with members of the opposite gender was strictly taboo. Dealing with trades people or men who came home was the responsibility of men. Women did not come out if their husbands had any male visitors.  Did this ensure that they were safe?

As I grew up, things changed a bit. The segregation was not so stark. However, movement was restricted because of the usual issues. Coming home very late on my own was cause for concern for my parents. Even if they did not define a curfew hour for me, they were certainly worried if I got home too late. Fear of being harassed by men on the road or the unspoken fear of being molested (nothing new - it has been the fear of women down the generations) certainly curtailed where I could go, how long I could stay out ..... Of course, some of these fears were also founded on personal experience. One stayed away from certain areas, modes of travel; one went out to certain places only during certain times of the day. There was a code of dressing – one was brought up to believe that women of a “certain kind” attracted “unwanted” attention. So one was personally responsible for anything that happened to oneself.

Have things changed today? Women work at all hours of day and night, they wear pretty much what they wish to wear, wearing western clothes is “in” or “cool”, wearing traditional gets one the label of being “behenji type”. They are professionally competent and may probably be far more competent than men. They are highly qualified, stay away from home to get more qualified and to work.  They might earn 6 figure incomes.  But all these changes, if anything, seem to be very superficial. Scratch the surface and it becomes evident that women, if anything, have it worse than women in the past. Today, they seem to be more unsafe than women have ever been in the past. Not a day goes by when we do not hear of women being molested, raped, exploited in the work place by unscrupulous colleagues or bosses or getting acid thrown on their faces for rejecting unwelcome advances from “admirers” and one sided “lovers”. They get molested openly on busy roads teeming with traffic and people, but no one goes to their aid. Look at what happened in Guwahati. The incident is captured by journalists and aired on news channels. (Was it more to get coverage or to try and save the girl)?  The police arrive after being tipped off and rescue her. But only 4 of the 15 molesters seen live in action have been arrested.

Or look at the case of a teenage girl who was thrown out of a moving train in Karnataka when she tried to stand up to 4 men who were trying to molest her. Just look at the sheer number of rapes that take place in the capital of the country. The statistics are devastating.

What safety can a woman expect in a country where her husband "protects her chastity" by putting a lock through her genitals?  And what hope does have one have for women like her who do not even think of questioning his actions and quietly acquiesce?  Women who do not think of complaining about him to the police till its too late?

This is the state of affairs in a country where we worship a Mother Goddess, a Goddess of Wealth and one for Learning. This is the cultural and traditional heritage that we crow about from the rooftops. This is the country we talk about when we indulge in empty jingoism like “Mera Bharat mahaan”, “India shining”, “Saare Jahaan se Accha”. We never tire boasting about the greatness of our country and of our country-fellows.

Having said which, the question arises, “So what are we going to do about it? How do we deal with such crimes”? It is very distressing and demoralising when we hear women in high places commenting on the need for women to dress “decently” or asking “what was she doing in a bar, dressed the way she was at such a late hour”? It sounds no different from saying “she asked for it and got what she wanted”. So the verdict of our “educated” women in high places is out. Men are helpless beings who are seduced by such wayward women and have no control over their instincts. They are not to blame. It is the women who seduce them who are to blame. So much for empowerment of women down the decades.  Are we going to wait for men to come and save us from other men and all the atrocities they perpetrate on us?  (What has changed since the times when a man who had to fight to get the practice of sati abolished, a man who had to fight to get women the right to education .....)?

We obviously cannot change “society” without defining that word. If it means all around me, except me, forget it. “Society” will never change. If I consider myself part of that “society”, then I have to be the change I wish to see. Well, I have started. For one, I have decided that “fear of what could happen” is not going to stop me from doing what I have to, what I need to for my own progress. It is not going to stop me from “living”. I would not stay at home just because I fear being knocked down by a car, or for fear of being robbed or killed. That could happen to me even when I am alone in the house (robbed or killed I mean - the people who were killed by aircrafts were also INSIDE the WTC towers.  Staying indoors does not prevent one from getting killed - be it by aircrafts, earthquakes, fires or any natural calamity.  Whatever has to happen, WILL HAPPEN ).  So too, there is no guarantee I would not be attacked inside my house by intruders. So I have to treat any crime against women (something that does not only happen only to others, but could potentially happen to me too) just the same as any other crime. I would not be the culprit. I would not be the one to be blamed. I would not be the one stigmatised. Would I be stigmatised if I was robbed? This is nothing different from any other crime that could be perpetrated on me. The day I decided to free myself from fear, that was the day I was free.  I would have to learn to ignore what "others" or "society" thought of me, if any such thing were to happen.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Soup and Pastas

I just love Italian food, especially pasta.  Pizzas are good, but not exactly healthy.  I can eat them once in a while, but give me pasta everyday, I would be only too happy.  There are many Italian joints around (wonder if there is any specific reason why the Italian cuisine has become so popular in India these days - is this a "foreign hand" at work????? ).

Anyway, coming back to the point, pastas when eaten outside are delicious and yummmmmmmm...... Smiley but not exactly healthy - they generally have a lot of cheese and olive oil.  OK, olive oil is healthy, but oil being oil, moderation is of the essence.

Today I was a bit fed up with the usual kind of menu and was craving a change.  So it was asparagus-broccoli soup, pasta with green pesto sauce (Sacla italia - Wild garlic pesto) and tomato based sauce (Dr. Oetker's Fun Foods - Pasta and Pizza sauce).

Lunch menu

Asparagus - Broccoli soup

The asparagus-broccoli soup was made according to a recipe I found on the net (  Although the recipe involved adding leek, I did not have any at home and so substituted with one additional onion. 

Coming to pastas:  Making pasta at home is advantageous in that it can be made really healthy by adding vegetables and cutting out cheese.  There are a variety of sauces available in the market - some imported like Sacla's pesto (green and red - made of sundried tomatoes), Ragu's or Prego or local brands too.  Ragu's or Prego sauces are far less oily.  The pesto sauces generally have a lot of olive oil.  So if I am using a ready made pesto, I generally do not add any additional olive oil.  I just use some of the oil in the sauce to saute the vegetables before cooking and then add the pesto with as little oil as possible (just drain out excess oil).

It is also possible to make one's own sauces or pesto with as little oil as possible.

Talking of health quotient, my individual choice of sauces would be in this order:

Home made tomato sauce = Home made pesto (no preservatives) - Ready made tomato sauce (preservatives present) = Ready made pesto (preservatives present).

The tomato sauce has no oil, but green pesto, although it has a lot more olive oil, is healthy as it has fresh basil leaves and pine nuts in it.  So it really is a trade off.  While buying readymade sauce/ pesto, please look for the green dot if you are a vegetarian.  If you are an eggetarian, check the labels carefully.  They might have a brown dot and other non vegetarian components such as fish, beef etc. or just eggs.

Vegetable pasta made with Sacla's wild garlic pesto

Recipe for home made green pesto:  There are many variations available on the net.  Here I have given the ingredients I use.


1 big bunch corriander
1 small bunch pudina (mint)
4-5 leaves of ajwain / omavalli (bishop's weed / caraway)
1 bunch of basil leaves (available in organic food stores) or a handful of tulsi leaves
1 handful of pine nuts (can be substitute with walnuts or cashew nuts or a mixture of both)
Salt to taste
Olive oil - enough to cover the pesto (or vary according to individual preference)


Blend all the above in a blender, add salt to taste.  Mix in some olive oil.  Preserve in a glass jar.  Use immediately or freeze to preserve. 

*I have never made pesto with sun dried tomatoes. 


Vegetable pasta made with Dr. Oetker's Fun Foods - Pasta and Pizza sauce

Recipe for tomato based sauce:

Chop a few tomatoes, puree them and add a few Italian herbs to them.  Also add a little bit of salt to taste.  If you like, you can defer adding salt to when you use the tomato sauce.  Use immediately or store in the freezer.

Making the pasta:  

Boil the pasta in some water.  When boiling use a teaspoonful of olive oil to ensure that the individual pieces do not stick to each other.  When the pasta is cooked (you can see the change in colour - it looks almost white and turns soft - just make sure you do not overcook the pasta otherwise it will turn into a paste), drain the excess water.

Take 2 teaspoons full of olive oil in a wok (kadai).  Add the chopped vegetables to it (you can include whatever vegetables you like), saute them.  Add a little water along with a bit of salt (1/2 teaspoonful) and allow them to cook.  Then add some pureed tomatoes or pesto to the cooked vegetables.  Add the cooked pasta to this along with whatever Italian herbs and spices you like.   Mix the vegetables, pasta, herbs and pesto / tomato sauce and cover the wok for a minute.  The pasta is now ready to be eaten.      

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I Rama - Age of Seers - Book 1

Like all young children of my generation, I grew up on stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata – the two major epics of India. I always loved the stories, but ever since I could think for myself and question right and wrong, I have always been critical of Rama whom I could never forgive for banishing Sita simply because of an ignorant dhobi questioning her chastity. I could never accept the explanation that as a king he was morally obliged to give up his personal rights in the interests of his “praja” or subjects. I could not help but ask “was Sita not a part of this same 'praja'? Did she not have rights as a subject/as a wife? One might argue that as a queen she was equally morally bound by the strict code for an upright human being. Well, we can keep arguing to and fro on this matter. However, this was the very reason I was really excited when I came across the title of this book “I Rama” which was announced on Blogadda. I was really curious now to know what Rama would have had to say on this matter.

The prologue talks of storm clouds brewing over the island of Lanka, which was surrounded by the sea and islands which “looked like pearl clusters in a necklace, linked with each other by backwaters”. This description heralds the kind of word imagery one comes across throughout the story.

The author (Ravi Venugopal) starts off by introducing the background of the story – about how the sages (beings who embodied all the positive energy of the universe) and the rakshasas or asuras (who represented the negative energies of the universe and were trying to stop the sages from achieving their goals) were at constant logger heads. The sages had to think of a way to fight Ravana who had become very powerful and arrogant. He controlled various galaxies and the cosmos and was virtually invincible and his demons were killing human beings and making life for the sages very difficult. The birth of Rama “a human blessed with the entire power of the cosmos” was the very event the sages were waiting for.

The story then takes off in the words of an aged Rama, as he sits on a rock along the Sarayu in reflective mood. He is met at sunset by his brother and faithful, loyal friend Hanuman. Hanuman expresses his desire to hear about Rama's story about his childhood. Rama has been waiting to tell his children this story and willingly decides to narrate it to Hanuman. It starts with the time when he was in his 7th year of training.

Rama narrates the stories of various sages like Gautama, Vashishta, Vishwamatra, Agastya, his father Dashratha's childhood and life, Kaikeyi's background as well as his own early life.  While most of these are familiar to us, what is different is that the story is presented in a way as to show how a certain preordained cascade of events are inevitable if a specific event has to happen. To name just one example:  Dashratha shooting an arrow blindfolded at a target thinking it was a deer, lead to Sravan being killed. His bereaved, heart broken father cursed Dashratha and set the stage for the successive events of Dashratha being separated from his son.

Or for that matter Kaikeyi being offered two boons by Dashratha and her telling him that she would redeem the promise at a later date set the stage for Rama being sent to the forest, which led to other events which eventually culminated in the destruction of Ravana at the hands of Rama.

The other noteworthy point in this book is the way Rama's narration has been presented in terms of contemporary concepts – inter-galactic travel, portals from other galaxies opening up for travel to earth, energy conversions, ..... the very stuff sci-fi is made of.  A very rational and credible approach to the epic - well within the realms of possibility.

The author has also added an original touch - Sita is presented as an articulate young lady who knew the art of warfare, was well-read, was a cook par excellence, had a vision about the future, involved herself with schemes involving social welfare, ..... in other words Sita could very well have been a modern day woman placed in the context of those times.

The one interesting revelation by Rama is that Kaikeyi's drama just before the coronation was not coincidental. She had appraised him about what she was going to do, why, when and how. This was necessary to ensure that Rama got an opportunity at fulfilling his destiny which may not have been possible if he had been coronated as planned by Dashratha.

On the whole, a very well researched, gripping narration with elements of the contemporary and some imaginary characters.  The word imagery used by the author in describing various events, the beauty of Sita, the resplendence of Sage Vishwamitra (to name a few examples) is simply wonderful. In three words: “An un-put-downable book”. Looking forward to the sequels.

Here is the link to the website:
ISBN 978-0615582504

This review is a part of the at Participate now to get free books!