Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ode to Joy – the music that #Beethoven heard only in his heart

The word “joy” has been used in the Bible 250 times, "sorrow" 40 and "sadness" only once!

Beethoven first came across the inspiration to his “Ode to Joy” in 1785 when he was a 15 year-old prodigy. It was Friedrich Schiller's poem "An die Freude" ("To Joy"). Beethoven tried to set this poem to music many times but failed. It was only 27 years later that he made his final successful attempt. Even so, it took him 10 agonizing years to complete the Ninth Symphony, during which he rejected over 200 versions before he decided what we now know the Ode to Joy.
 By now Beethoven was 54 years old, ill and completely deaf…
When he conducted the premiere of his Ninth Symphony on May 7, 1824 in Vienna, the story goes that he continued conducting the orchestra and chorus long after they’d reached the end and even after the thunderous applause had begun. It was only when one of the singers turned him around that he stopped and saw the rapturous response to what was to be his final opus, perhaps the most magnificent of all his works…. an Ode to Joy that he never heard with his ears but which played so ecstatically inside his heart!
Incidentally, the centerpiece of celebrations marking the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony….
“Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers,
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.”

An die Freude" ("To Joy") by Friedrich Schiller


Sunday, November 29, 2015

"A Hindu View of Life" - A much needed perspective from Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan

Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan wrote this is in 1926, as part of the Upton Lectures in Oxford. Before we argue hysterically about "Hindutva", it might be a good idea to read these deeply though, beautifully articulated lectures about Hinduism...

"There has not been in recent times any serious and systematic endeavour to raise the mental level of masses and place the whole Hindu population on a higher spiritual plane. It is necessary for the Hindu leaders to hold aloft the highest conception of God & work steadily on the minds of worshippers so as to effect an improvement in their conceptions. The temples, shrines and sanctuaries with which the whole land is covered may be used not only as places of prayer and altars of worship, but as seats of learning and schools of thought which can undertake the spiritual direction of Hindu."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Best Advice on Giving Advice from One of the Greatest Short Story Writers in the world....

“I have always hesitated to give advice, for how can one advise another on how to act unless one knows the other as well as one knows oneself? Heaven knows I know little enough about myself: I know nothing of others. W can only guess at the thoughts and emotions of our neighbours. Each one of us is a prisoner in a solitary tower and he communicates with the other prisoners, who form mankind, by conventional signs that have not quite the same meaning for them as for himself. And life, unfortunately, is something that you can lead but once: mistakes are often irreparable, and who am I that I should tell this one and that how he should lead it? Life is a difficult business and i have found it hard enough to make my own a complete and rounded thing; I have not been tempted to teach my neighbour what he should do with his.

From “The Happy man”, short story be Somerset Maugham

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not because he seems a good, decent man, a man of much learning and some vision, though that too....APJ Abdul Kalam

So much has been said by now about Dr. #Abdul Kalam’s candidature for the Presidency. And a lot of it isn’t very nice. That Dr. Kalam was not the first but the lowest-common-denominator-of-consensus choice. (I mean if merit is all we’re talking about, they hectored, and the presidency is a kind of glorified Bharat Ratna, then why not Sachin Tendulkar?) That it was the result of some really murky politicking and wheeling-dealing in high places. That it was only so that the BJP could have a very fine fig leaf to cover up all that happened and is still happening in Gujarat. (“Look ma, we’ve got a Muslim that doesn’t eat meat and recites from the Bhagvad Gita!” Would we be as ecstatic, I wonder, if we’d found a Hindu that ate meat and recited from the Quran?) That what would a scientist – and that too according to some, not even a great scientist - know about being a President and more importantly, know about being a President which seems to be mostly about keeping one’s nose out of and one’s head above political waters that are more stinking and muck-ridden as the Ganges at Benares?
So much has been said about why Dr Kalam should not be a presidential candidate. Even though it’s almost certain that he is going to be next President of India. And you know what? I don’t care. Because average nukkad-galli Indian that I am, Indian that I am, bankrupt of almost every hero and every god, Indian that I am, paralyzed by cynicism and hopelessness, disgusted Indian that I am because I vote for and am governed by rulers that I respect and have faith in even less than the chewing gum stuck to my shoe, Indian that I am in an India that has the potential to be so great but that is still so little, average Indian that I am, I desperately want this man to be my President.
And this is why…
It’s not because apart from rocket technology, he finds time to pluck a mean tune on the rudra veena and scribble poetry, though that too. It’s not even because he seems to be such an endearing little gnome who wears hair that seems to be sculpted in Brylcreem-‘n-ghee and chappals and bush shirts with such chutzpah, though that too.  It’s not because he seems a good, decent man, a man of much learning and some vision, though that too.
Mainly, it’s because if this man can be President, it means that there is hope for me. And hope for millions of young Indians who have nothing – no rich, well-connected fathers, no powerful, power-broking godfathers, no strings to pull – nothing but the power of their own potential, the might of their belief in themselves, driven by a vision of what they want to be that extends beyond the limit of their own bank accounts. It meant that there’s hope that it’s not all hopeless. It means that we still live in a land where every once in a way, merit matters. Merit and talent as homegrown as tair-sadam (curd rice), lovingly cooked in millions of humble little cottages nestled in thousands of obscure little specks on the map, one of them called Rameshwaran.
I watched Dr Kalam at his first press conference. And after I had got past the hair and the buck-toothed smile and the accent thicker than avial, I was amazed and enchanted. This man talked a different tongue, one that our leaders and teachers once talked but is now long forgotten. There was a strange, unselfconscious innocence about him, a refreshing, childlike faith it seemed in things that, if he didn’t refer to them with such conviction, he’d be a laughing stock. He should’ve been a caricature, a cruel joke but he wasn’t….

Maybe it’ll all come to naught. Maybe like others before him, he will be sucked in and destroyed by The System. But till, then, there is hope. So for all those who look at him and talk about what should’ve been but isn’t and what is but should not have been, this is what I have to say - in the words of my next President. “Whatever has happened has happened for the best. Whatever is happening is happening for the best. And whatever will happen, will happen for the best.” 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Tortoise and Yoga


Last Saturday, my yogacharya started another branch of our yogashala and he asked me to speak at the inauguration about my experiences as a yoga student.
I guess the expected thing on an occasion and a subject like this would be to talk about how yoga cured my chronic, debilitating backache. Or that my 20 year old migraine has disappeared or that my blood pressure, once a screaming 100/200 is now a low and sweet 80/120. But while it is true that I did come to yoga because I had a health issue, there were other more important things to talk about. Today, I share some of them with you today …..
Mysore is no stranger to yogacharyas and yogashalas and many would say that it is one of the cradles of yoga not just for India but also, as is evident from this gathering, for the entire world. So, when I decided to learn yoga, my choice of yogashalas was very wide indeed. And I chose Atma Vikas Yoga Vignana Mandira because I found and read on the Internet a talk that Yogacharya Venkatesh had given in which he said something that stood out. He said that yoga is a way life. I can’t tell you why, but somehow it struck a chord somewhere. I met Sir and started learning yoga. That was two and a half years ago. 750 classes later - give or take a few - I’m still here. And still learning. My friends and relatives are surprised. Still learning, they ask incredulously? I don’t blame them. We live in “instant” times. We’ve become used to wanting everything day before yesterday – or then at least in 10 easy classes. Almost every day we are flooded with ads about yoga courses promising to cure everything from asthma to depression in just 21 days. There’s apparently even 5 minute yoga that you can do while tying your tie or brushing your teeth or waiting for your flight to take off.
So, if it’s instant fixes that you are looking for, it’s not a good idea to go to our yogacharya. His guiding principle is a few seconds, a few centimeters a day. He’ll routinely tell you as he teaches you the simplest asana that it’s going to take you 6 months to get this. At least. (He will also tell you that the simplest asanas are the most difficult….) And anyway, what’s the hurry, he asks, when you have not only this lifetime but so many more in which to learn. Ask him if you’re doing the asanas correctly and he’ll say don’t ever ask me that because there is no such thing as doing an asana “correctly”. If anybody could, they’d be God. Ask him about pain, that favorite subject of us yoga students. Tell him that this or the other part hurts and most likely he’ll first laugh indulgently, then tell you very sweetly that it’s going to hurt for a while. (6 months, maybe?!!). Besides, a little pain is good, he’ll say, because learning to endure pain helps you build a strong will. (I remember when he taught me Upavishta Kona Asana. I was splat and spread out on the floor like a swatted mosquito and he asked, “What hurts?” My inner thighs, I said and boy, were they hurting.. Good, he said, and walked off…. ) Go to any one of his yoga demonstrations and his constant litany will be, “This asana is a very difficult one and with regular practice you will need at least 6 six years to master it…”
But I am still at it and God willing, I will be at for the rest of my life.
Why? Especially since it’s been like erasing a book that you’ve been writing for the last thirty odd years and then learning to write all over again? Because, the lessons are about life and you realize that not only is yoga a way of life, but also that there is no other way to live.
And what are these lessons?
First, that after a while, what asana you are doing becomes irrelevant. Sure, certain asana are more important if you have a bad back and others should be avoided if you are hypertensive and so on and so forth. And of course, the body parts that you use for Badha Kona Asana are completely different to Dhanurasana and so are many of the physical benefits. But, other than that, everything else that you use are exactly the same, no matter what the asana. Nothing to do with your body and they are also the very same things that you use outside the yogashala – in life.
For example - patience. When you start doing yoga, there’s the initial “honeymoon” period when you’re all fired up with enthusiasm. The yoga mat is lovely and new, you’re suddenly sleeping better, eating better, there’s a new spring in your step and everything seems wonderful, really. That euphoria lasts as much as a modern day Hollywood marriage - anywhere from 1 to about 4 months. Then you hit the speed breakers. You feel you’ve been struggling for weeks but not getting anywhere. Even the health problem that you came to solve is less, but still there. The yogacharya will talk about “focusing on your breath” and relaxing into each asana. But that’s all double Dutch because you’re too busy straining and pushing and “relaxed” is the last thing that you’re feeling.
And this is the point where you make a choice. Either to quit, telling yourself that this is really not your “thing” and maybe you should try some other yogashala or switch to meditation or tai chi or maybe even knitting ….
Or then, something called patience bit kicks in and you choose to wait. And just turn up at the class everyday, without thinking how long it will take to learn this or that asana or whether you’ll be yoga competition material in a year or why your neighbour on the mat is progressing faster than you etc., etc. And stop fighting with your asanas and yourself. Instead, you just do the best you can for that day. And, most important of all, be content with what you achieved in that session. And wait.
And the big deal about patience is that not can it stave off an ulcer or a heart attack, it is also the flip side of contentment. Om shanthi.
For me, that is more difficult than the most complicated asana. It’s easy to fight, to compete, to want to win, to want more and more – we’re taught this all our lives. As that Pepsi ad said – yeh dil mangey more….
Then, I am learning the real meaning of the word “effort”. For most of us, effort means pushing, straining and sweating. And we do this not just to have thinner thighs and yoga butts but also for flatter TV screens, fatter pay packets, lower cholesterol, more percentage points on our children’s mark sheets, more posh in our addresses, more happiness. We shove and push and strain to try and get into the fastest moving lane or queque only to discover to our horror that there is another one that’s moving even faster.
But I have come to a teacher who believes in …..yup, just a few seconds, a few centimeters further a day. Remember that story about the tortoise and the hare? I think the tortoise in that story must have been my yogacharya’s student. Because, when the tortoise stood with the hare at the starting point, the finishing line must have seemed at least a few lifetimes away. (I’ve often felt like that while doing an asana!) But he just shut his eyes, ignored the taunting chatter inside his head – (“Look, everyone around you has learnt padmasana and you can’t even manage Ardha of it!”) - and slowly tottered down those first few millimeters. And ignoring the equally taunting hare, who, was halfway down the racetrack and resting. Then he went a few more millimeters. Paused for a few breaths, nice and easy. And then, a few more. Till….
We all know how that story ends. But, that’s not important. Because the tortoise didn’t know that he was going to win. In fact, when he started, winning must have seemed as possible as growing a pair of wings and flying off to Florida. But, all the same, he gave it a shot and didn’t give up. Tackling it a millimeter at a time…
So, you could say that I am learning to be a tortoise.
And like the tortoise, I am learning that there’s very little that is not possible if you put your mind to it. We preset our limits, mostly without knowing if they are really our limits and so much of life gets blocked out before we have even tried it. A year ago, if somebody told me that I could do Sarvangasana, I’d have laughed. Today I can. It took me 2 years of almost daily practice to be able to do padmasana. An imperfect, barely padmasana, but a padmasana all the same. Two of my neighbours-on-the-yoga-mat can do pindasana in sarvangasana. In case you don’t know what that is, first you do sarvangasa and then, while still upside down, you wrap your legs into a padmasana and like a well-oiled hinge, fold your body from your hips towards your head so that your folded legs rest on your forehead. According to BKS Iyengar, in his “Light of Yoga”, difficulty rating of 5. According to me, at least 455. In my pre-tortoise days, I’d have thought – I will never ever be able to do that. Today, I think - maybe, someday…..
So I am learning to allow the possibility of the impossible. It’s both frightening and fun.

I also learnt the folly and arrogance of taking anything for granted. Just because my back when beautifully flat and stretched out in paschimottasana today does not mean it will so be tomorrow. Ditto outside the yogashala. So, I’m learning to what I’ve heard my yogacharya droning everyday to us while we are in shavasana – to be not in the past, not the future, but now. In this breath, in this moment, this is where all it all is. Concentration. Contentment. Or, as that Hindi film song says – kal kya hoga, kis ko pata. Abhi zindagi ka le lo mazaa.

Finally, I learnt that life is about small triumphs. No big leaps, no saving the world or the Amazon rainforest. Just conquering one more centimeter, a few more seconds. Like my anger fuse – it’s a little longer. Not much, just a few centimeters. Will there come a day when it will be as long as Lord Hanuman’s tail was in Ravana’s palace – endless and nothing will set me alight? Who knows? Maybe. (And if not in this lifetime, then maybe the next!)
Or then, maybe not.
These are lessons for life, about life. To be like the tortoise. And nothing teaches them better than yoga…..

Monday, May 18, 2015

Yes, Don't Let Your Child Become a Doctor - a Patient's Point of View

I am writing this because I have been very disturbed by recent tweets and an article by doctors about how difficult it is to practice medicine, particularly in India); so difficult that they will not allow their children to become doctors.
Okay, so it sucks being a doctor in India.
But it sucks being almost any other kind of professional because the very system that we work (and live ) by in this country is hugely flawed.
Corruption, compromising of ethics, interference of the powerfully connected, etc., etc  is rampant everywhere and the medical industry is no different.
Even those of us who are not going to be doctors also leave college and school with silly illusions, foolish ideals and foolish expectations that we will do this that and the other to change things, to do it our way
("Be the change you want" - remember?)
And even we who don't end up as doctors are quickly forced to divest ourselves of those silly illusions, foolish ideals and foolish expectations and plod down the straight and narrow, wearing our cynical, disenchanted, jaded blinkers.

And yes, the government policy on health sucks.
 Which is why despite the rash of  "super specialty hospitals" advertised with more fervour than fairness creams and online shopping sites, decent (often even basic) medical care is out of reach for many (dare I say millions?) Indians
But isn't that true of everything else?
Isn't it true that a large reason for farmer suicides is the government policy on agriculture?
Isn't it true that government policy on education, housing, environment and a host of other things has had much to ensure that they are are all within reach of only a tiny percentage of the privileged?

(At a more cynical level, how many doctors really aspire to "serve", rather than aspire have their own "private clinic" somewhere down the line?)

Now for the part that I don't agree with so wholeheartedly.
You say - the doctor's pay sucks.
You know better.
But isn't the reality also that the reason why parents (almost without exception) want their kids to score marks high enough to get into med school is because the medical profession is one of most well-paid and lucrative professions in the country, scoring even about "software engineering"?
And which is why in the dowry market, a doctor commands the highest price.
And which is why the epidemic of new "medical colleges" is almost as bad as new "engineering colleges".

Anyway, the point that you want us to get is that in summary, life as a doctor in India sucks.


But it sucks for almost every other professional, in more cases, much much more.

Our teachers (in a country where as the saying goes - Gurur-Brahmaa/ Gurur Vishnnur/ Gururdevo get my drift) are some of the most pathetically paid professionals. They teach in a parrot-farm educational system about which the less said the better, with textbooks that often are "corrected" to suit the whims and fancies of the current political thinking in power.
 So, we should discourage our children from becoming teachers?
Or writers? 
Oof, don't get me started on that. Who reads these days, anyway, unless it's a Chetan Bhagat novel?
And unless you become an Arundhati Roy or a celebrity columnist, forget rent, you couldn't afford tea-and-khari biscuit on a freelance writer's money.
By the same count, should we also discourage our children from musicians?
And painters?
And dancers?
And photographers?
It's a long, sad list....

However there is one reason why we SHOULD discourage our kids from becoming doctors, something that sets apart this profession (along with teachers and pilots)from all others.

People trust their lives and bodies in a doctor's hands, often literally. Both precious beyond words and both irreplaceable.
That is why, a software professional may not be killed for an app which goes haywire. But a doctor's mistake can mean an irrevocable loss of a body part, of life.
Also, there is no human condition more terrible than a diseased one.
Pain. Disability. Deformity. And with it, loss of livelihood, of self-respect, of dignity.
And finally, the loss of life itself.

That is why, when a doctor heals, he or she is God
And when a mistake is made, it is unforgivable.
Even more unforgivable if the mistake is made out of sheer callousness or negligence
(I almost lost an eye and would have had difficulty walking again because of two such "mistakes)

And we know you are human.
We know that we make demands on you that are almost inhuman, asking you to work a schedule is punishing, leaving little (or no) time for family and life as we know it.

 As a doctor, you have special powers. You have knowledge of our bodies and what makes them work and how to fix them when they don't that we will never have.
And because of that, you have one other thing.
Our trust. That you will do all that is in those special powers to heal us, or at least to make it all a little more bearable.

Now you can look at all this two ways.

Either as a privilege. And that even though it demands a heavy price, it is a privilege that is worth it.

Or as a burden of  a profession (albeit a noble one) practiced in a country ill-equipped to accommodate its special needs.

So, which way you look at will determine on whether you will let your child become a doctor or not

Actually, why am i telling you all this?
You are the doctor. You know best

Monday, January 26, 2015

Rest in Peace, RK Laxman

rasipuram krishnaswami laxman
Gouri R.

RK Laxman passed away today.
A few months ago i found this wonderful piece on RK Laxman written by Gouri R on Arvind Gupta's website. It also includes an excerpt from a book by RK Laxman - but i don't know which one.
Thank you Arvind Gupta, thank you Gouri.
Because it is a download document, I am posting it on my blog. 

‘All my life I have painted crows. Singly, in pairs, threesomes, whole murders of them.’ He breaks off to chuckle. ‘Don’t look so horrified. Murder is the collective noun for crows. Even as a child I had been fascinated by them. They are smart, lively and have a ‘strong survival instinct. The common crow is really an uncommon bird.’
The speaker is the uncommon creator of that common man who represents the mute millions of this country—who else but Rasipurarn Krishnaswami Laxman, India’s most celebrated cartoonist? Forty years of cartooning have dimmed neither Laxman s brilliance nor the bafflement of his check-coated man who blinks at the political scene from his front -page corner in The Times of India.
When I approached him for an interview, Laxman refused point-blank to talk about his profession. ‘You will ask me what every damn fool asks me—”How do you get your ideas everyday?’ ‘As though I could explain. And if I did, as though you could understand!’
But he was willing to talk about his passion for crows, with many digressions and sly digs at the sacred cows in the Indian mind.
A year later I found myself in his office cabin listening to descriptions of his childhood. Quick pencil sketches showed me what he was talking about. His words had all the distinguishing features of a Laxman cartoon—the fine eye for detail, the pungent wit, the puckish sparkle, the sudden probe below the surface, and hearty guffaws at the absurdities of life.
What is it that makes R.K. Laxman so special among cartoonists?
Laxman s own answer would be, ‘My genius, what else?’
‘A little humility is not a bad thing if you are at the top,’ writes fellow cartoonist Sudhir Dar (The Illustrated Weekly of India) as he recounts this story of the cartoonist Ranan Lurie’s meeting with Laxman. When the American asked him who the best Indian cartoonist was, Laxman flashed back, ‘I am.’ ‘The second, third, fourth, fifth best man on the job? Laxman continued to repeat ’I am’.
Colleagues list other faults—naiveté, inaccurate caricature, old-fashioned style, lack of experimentation, repetitiveness, verbosity. Even while admitting that he has no peer in pocket cartoons, they call his political cartooning atrocious. No acid-throwing or lava burst—Laxman is too cosy, pleasant, decent, gentle. ‘He doesn’t take the debate forward,’ says O.V. Vijayan. ‘There is no political comment, only political statement,’ says cartoonist Ravi Shankar. ‘He is not easily provoked. And doesn’t want to provoke his readers either,’ comments Abu Abraham.
Laxman may riot impress an international, particularly the Western, audience. ‘Why should he? He draws for us,’ says my friend Keshav (a cartoonist for The. Hindu).’No other cartoonist has understood the average Indian as Laxman has. This gives him a far wider reach than his sophisticated colleagues. From garbage disposal to nuclear physics, he can make you see every issue clearly and in a new light.’
We leaf through Laxman’s cartoon collections, illustrations, even doodles. One of them shows a room in the Space Centre where scientists are busy with the ‘Man on the Moon Project’. Pictures of a rocket and a cratered moon loom over them. A long-coated scientist enters, points to the common man standing at the doorway and says he has found the perfect space traveller. The man from India can survive without water, food, light, air, shelter’.
When we stop laughing Keshav asks me, ‘Can you call this superficial? A Laxman cartoon has two characteristics. It is drama frozen at a crucial moment with something before and something after it. He puts us on the spot. We feel the whole ambience. The common man is helpless in his country; he chokes with frustrations and fury. Laxman’s cartoons convert this rage into humour.’
Laxman’s missilic rise began very early. While still at the Maharaja’s College, Mysore, studying politics, economics and philosophy, he began to illustrate his elder brother R.K. Narayan’s stories in The Hindu. He drew political cartoons for the local papers, and for the Swatantra, edited by doyen Khasa Subba Rao. He held a summer job at the Gemini Studios, Madras.
After graduation Laxman went to Delhi to find a job as cartoonist. The Hindustan Times told him he was too young, that he should start with provincial papers. The Free Press Journal in Bombay had no such qualms. Laxman found himself seated next to another cartoonist who was furiously drawing a bird in a cage. His name was Bal Thackeray. (‘Is that an Indian name?’ wondered Laxman who knew only of William Makepeace Thackeray.)
One day the Journal proprietor banned him from making fun of communists. So the twenty-three-year old Laxman left, caught a Victoria, and walked into The Times of India office. From that day ‘I had a table and a room to myself which I have used ever since.’ And used with a freedom unknown to any Indian journalist for as long.
Laxman feels oppressed by having to turn out a cartoon everyday. ‘Each morning I grumble, I plan to resign as I drag myself to the office. By the time I come home I like my work.’
Laxman plays with every shade of humour—wit, satire, irony, slapstick, buffoonery, tragicomedy. Such versatility dazzles as does his unwearied discipline. Through the long, prolific years the man] from Mysore has never hit anyone below the belt. And that makes him India’s most beloved cartoonist.

In our old house in Mysore, there was a window. It had a glass pane divided into many parts. Each part had a different colour. One day, the pane broke. Bits of coloured glass tinkled down.
I ran to pick up those pieces. I looked at every colour, one after another. Suddenly, I happened to see through the glass. And I saw a new world! It was strange... weird... frightening. Everybody and everything looked blue. The blue gardener dug the blue earth. Nearby stood a blue cow swishing its blue tail. Why, the sun had turned blue in the sickly sky. Everything was spooky and still. I couldn’t bear it anymore.
Quickly, I raised the green glass piece. Thank God, things became cheerful again. The same gardener was shovelling away with a bucket by this side. The cow turned friendly.
But I had to try out the red piece. It struck terror into my heart. The cow was ready to attack me, the dog bared its teeth, the gardener was digging up a skeleton under the neem tree! Red clouds gathered in a bloody sky. The world was a scene of war. Sweating and trembling, I switched back to green. At once things calmed down. It was a cool, pleasant day out in the garden at home where the breeze blew softly. Father and mother were out. I was free to play the whole evening.
As I remember it, this was my first communi­cation with my surroundings. I loved looking through the broken glass pieces, feeling different with each colour. Perhaps this was an early sign of my interest in visual things—in drawing and painting that were to be my life.
If you ask, how did a three-year old boy get to handle pieces of broken glass, the answer is: ours was a big family. I was the youngest of five brothers and two sisters. My sisters were married; my brothers went to school and college. Father was the headmaster of the local school. Mother was busy somewhere deep inside the sprawling house. There was no one to question me then {and no one dares to question me now!) My constant companions were the old gardener and Rover, my dog. They didn’t mind what I did, so long as I didn’t bother them.
What’s that? You want to know what the dog ^looked like? He had ears hanging down and tongue hanging out. Rover was a dull and stupid Great/Dane. But we had good fun together.
The gardener was an old man. He had gnarled, knotty hands, just like the roots of a tree. He looked rather like a tree himself, tall and wooden. His skin was an even brown—it had no colour variations at all. He was my friend. Oh what stories he would tell me! All about his own brave deeds and strange experiences. One of them was about his childhood. It was my favourite.
When the gardener was a little child he used to go into the forest to cut wood. Once, as he trudged home with a bundle of sticks on his head, the evening shadows lengthened. The night sounds of the jungle began. They hurried his footsteps. As he passed by the river he saw a banyan tree dropping its branches over the grey waters. What was that crouching on the branch? Why, it was a white sheet., it was a ghost! His eyes forgot to blink. The ghost jumped— jumped right into the river, and came up noiselessly. It came dripping out into the river bank, a ghost no more! It had taken the form of a human being. The gardener screamed and ran for his life. He reached the village gasping for breath. He had himself become as white as that ghost on the tree.
At this exciting moment my gardener friend would stop clearing the ground, lean upon his rake and look this way and that to make sure no one was within earshot. He would drop his voice to a hoarse whisper. ‘Oh yes, little master, that river is still there, so is the banyan tree. And so is the ghost, ready to jump into the water, change himself to a man, and mislead travellers at night. Why? What do you mean why? The ghost drinks human blood, that’s why!
With stories like these, are you surprised I developed a terrible fear of the dark? I shivered when I saw twilight shadows. Present-day psychologists would say that it is very wrong to frighten children. But I disagree. I think it is a wonderful experience to be frightened out of one’s wits. If you bring up a child without ghost stories, he will grow up to be frightened of something else. I believe that horror is necessary for normal growth.
Later, when I was twelve or so, I decided to overcome these fears. Late at night, I used to go to the cremation ground near our house, and watch the flames still leaping over the corpse. At last the embers would glow red. It made a striking sight in the black silence.
The gardener’s other stories were equally scary, even when they were about real creatures. Sitting on a stone or a patch of grass, I would watch the gardener draw water from the big well, or hew the logs for the brick stove in the backyard. This stove was used for boiling cauldrons of water for the family to bathe in. Mysore mornings could be quite chilly. The gardener would stop working, wipe the sweat from his face and say, ‘Once, when I was doing just this, a slight rustle made me turn. And I saw a snake right behind me. What do you think; it was a cobra, all of twenty feet long. Its hood was up and swaying. Its tongue flashed in and out, ready to strike. I picked up a stone from the ground and threw it. The snake made a swipe at me, but I sidestepped. This time, I grabbed the stick I had left by the well, and hit it hard. I kept hitting until it twisted itself into a knot and died on the spot.’
The creatures changed from story to story, but the main action of hitting and killing remained the same. The victims were always poisonous, dangerous or ferocious. The gardener was always strong, brave and clever.
And looking at him, tall and brawny, brown muscles rippling in the sun, I could believe every one of those stories. The old gardener was a hero in my eyes.
And so I lazed in the garden, a huge one full of trees, bushes and hiding places for a growing child, far from the sight (and the calls) of grown-ups inside the house. I would watch the squirrels and insects scurrying by, and birds of every description.
When did I start drawing? May be at the age of three. I started on the wall, of course, like any normal child. Parents were more tolerant in those days. No one stopped my scribbling on the wall. I drew with bits of burnt wood that I got from the hot water stove in the backyard. What did I draw? Oh, the usual things—trees, houses, the sun behind the hill...
I was not at all a good student in the classroom. The one time I got a pat on the back from the teacher was for one of my drawings. We were all asked to draw a leaf. Each child scratched his head and wondered what a leaf looked like. One drew a banana leaf which became too big for the slate. Another drew a speck that couldn’t be seen—a tamarind leaf! Some just managed blobs. When the teacher came to me he asked, ‘Did you draw this by yourself?’ I hesitated. Had I done wrong? Will my ear be twisted? My cheek slapped? I nodded dumbly. And do you know, the teacher actually broke into a smile! He said I had done a very good job. He saw great possibilities in that leaf I drew so long ago on a hot afternoon, sitting in the dull classroom. I had seen that leaf on the peepal tree which I passed each day on my way to school.
Generally, people take everything for granted. They hardly see anything around them. But I had a keen eye. I observed everything and had a gift for recalling details. This is essential for every cartoonist and illustrator.
As far back as I can remember, the crow attracted me because it was so alive on the landscape. In our garden it stood out black against the green trees, blue sky, red earth and the yellow compound wall. Other birds are timid. They try to hide and camouflage themselves. But the crow is very clever. It can look after itself very well.
At age three I began to sketch crows. I tried to draw their antics. My mother saw this and encouraged me. She told me that Lord Shanisvara used the crow for his mount. He was a very powerful god, she added; ‘If you draw His crow, surely He will send you good luck.’
I have never grown out of this childhood fascination for the crow. I have painted hundreds of crows, singly and in groups, from near and far, and in many moods. Sometimes 1 put crows into my cartoons. My crow paintings have gone to many countries—one of them hangs in faraway Iceland now!
There were many trees in our garden. Mango, wood apple, margosa, drumstick... Every single tree spelt adventure. I would scramble right to their tops and watch the world from the heights. How different the same old places looked from the tree top! But climbing them was not without its terrors. Imagine a small child suddenly coming upon a chameleon on the branch, motionless and menacing! It is really a pre-historic animal, you know. So are the lizards—onaan, as we call them— just a twitching tail to show they are alive. When I think back, I realize that to a child, reality seems much more fabulous than fantasy. From a ladybird to a mouse, anything that moves can startle him.
Our garage was a jungle of junk, cobwebs and scorpions which were big or very small, but all quite deadly. Scorpion hunting was a favourite sport for us children. We would move an old tin or kick the rubble. Sure enough, a scorpion would scuttle out. We would beat it to pulp with a stick or stone. My brothers had another pastime. They would catch grasshoppers. The idea was to train them to do tricks, and amaze the world with a grasshopper circus of their own. But the creatures died after a day in their cardboard boxes, though the boxes were lined with grass and filled with tasty titbits from our kitchen.
Perhaps you think we had cruel games. But all children are like that. You see them killing butterflies, throwing stones at dogs, teasing kittens. Only when we grow older do we learn to be kind and realize that selfishness is bad. But even then not all of us learn these things. Otherwise why would there be fights and wars?
But let me get back to the garden again. It was a never-ending source of stories that I made up for myself. For example, have you ever watched an ant hill? Seen the ants going about busily? There are usually two orderly files—one going out, the other coming in.  My elder brother, the one just before me, was very inventive. He used to tell me that these ants lived in an enormous township inside the hill. This town had broad streets and big houses, post offices and police stations, playgrounds and movie theatres. Why, the ants even had their own cinema posters. He never tired of spinning fantastic stories about the secret life of the ants!
My two sisters were married and gone. They only came on occasional visits. My brothers lived with us, three of them, almost grown up. But they could all be counted upon to make my life interesting. What a fine time we had together! When the rain clouds loomed in the sky, all of us would run out and watch the way they made shapes and spread themselves into a dark blanket above. My brothers let me join their games sometimes—from cricket to kite-flying. All of them read aloud to me from English books and explained the difficult parts.
Father used to get many magazines for his school. They arrived in big bundles every week, from Madras, London and New YorkHarpers, Boys Own Paper, Punch, Atlantic, American Mercury, The Merry Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement... brothers read the before they were taken away from our house.
The Strand Magazine published Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the famous detective Sherlock Holmes. I remember sitting on my brother’s lap as he read those stories out to the three younger ones, translating them for me into Tamil. Mother had gone to the Ladies’ Club, leaving us in his charge. This must have been the safest way of keeping us under his watchful eye!
My mother was a remarkable woman. Her’s was a hectic life. We had a retinue of servants, including a cook, but she had her hands full managing the household. She did some cooking at times. It was of the experimental kind. She would bake shortcakes and butter biscuits for us. Once she followed a magazine recipe and made toothpowder! At another time she made a new kind of fuel for the boiler, a copper vessel with a water heating system attached to it. Come summer and she would start rolling out papads at home—flat round pieces like chapattis which were dried on the terrace. We children would hop around and try to help her. She never said it was a bother but let us do what we liked.
Mother had several hobbies. One of them was to buy litho prints of gods and human beings. She would dress them up with bits of cloth, mirrors, beads and sequins. How hideous they looked! But in those days they were in fashion. One of her pictures was called ‘Vanity’. It had a woman decked out in gold-lace saree and gaudy jewellery.
Mother was good at both tennis and badminton. She also played golf. She was the unbeaten local chess champion. She played a good game of bridge as well. At home we loved it when she joined us for carrom or card games. She brought so much life and laughter with her.
I was very proud of my mother. Whatever I know I learnt from her. What a voracious reader she was! She had never stepped into school or college, but there was nothing she did not know about Sanskrit and Tamil literature. She kept up with English writing through translations. We boys would read to her and tell her everything we found in books and magazines.
How many myths and legends she knew! I must say that the best versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata I know are from her story-telling.
At night she would come up to lie down on her bed upstairs. Then all of us would gather around her. We would chat, crack jokes, tell stories, tell her about our friends, ask for advice... Just thinking about those times makes me happy. How lucky we were to have such a wonderful mother!
Father....There is just one word to describe him— ‘formidable’. Are you frightened by that word? Well, it means just that— ‘frightening’. As a school teacher and headmaster he was very stern about discipline. I was rather scared of him. But as you know, you need not hate the person you dread. Just look at him, isn’t he like a marble statue with his beak of a nose and a bald head like Julius Caeser? Can any child get close to someone like that?
This is what my elder brother and novelist R.K. Narayan wrote about father in his autobiography, My Days: ‘He has the personality of a commander-in-chief rather than a headmaster,’ people used to remark, a stentorian voice, a sharp nose and a lion-like posture—a man who didn’t fuss about children openly, and never sat around and chatted with the members of the family as was the habit of others. He moved in fixed orbits at home. He had a well worn route from his room to the dining or bath room, set hours during which he could be seen at different points, and if one kept out of his way, as I thought then, one was safe for the rest of the day.
He left for school on a bicycle, impeccably dressed in tweed suit and tie, crowned with snow-white turban, at about 9.30 every morning, and he returned home at nine at night, having spent his time at the officers’ club on the way, playing tennis and meeting his friends, who were mostly local government officials. At night a servant would go out with a lantern in order to light my father’s path back home, and to carry his tennis racquet, leaving him to walk back swinging his cane, to keep off growling street dogs all along the path, which lay sunk in the dust. I must admit I did not know my brother
Narayan was a writer until I saw that he had won a prize from The Merry Magazine for a short story.
This was called ‘Dodu, the Moneymaker’. It was about a little boy struggling to find money for his urgent needs—like groundnuts and candy! I was very excited because this sounded suspiciously like me. Moreover, the hero of the story had my name! After that I watched Narayan’s activities with respect. He would pound away upon a huge Underwood typewriter. Perhaps all that banging was for his first novel Swami and Friends, a story about boys growing up in a small town called Malgudi. All Narayan’s stories were to be set in this non-existent town. But little did I think then that I would get to know Malgudi as well as Narayan himself. Because later, I was to illustrate my brother’s stories. At that time Narayan was also writing articles for a newspaper in Madras. 1 had a cycle. My brother used to pay me a commission to pedal furiously to the post office and mail his copy on time.
I was about nine or ten when I decided to be an artist. I would cycle for ten miles around our home to find interesting landscapes to paint. Mysore was a good place for this—full of trees, streams, hills and old ruins. I also learnt a lot by looking at illustrations in foreign magazines. The cartoons were a special attraction. I began to draw cartoons and found the local papers willing to publish them! The people I chose to poke fun at were international names—Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, Nehru and Gandhi! I must have done well because I was asked to draw posters too, for the defence programme and for adult education. I earned my pocket money and never had to trouble my parents for it. ‘Dodu’ had found the way!
When Narayan’s stories began to get published in The Hindu, Madras, he asked me to illustrate them. I knew exactly what he wanted, and whom he had in mind for his characters. Didn’t we belong to the same place? Hadn’t I spent hours in every spot around us, including the busy market square? Hadn’t I sketched all those real people he wrote about? Look at this old vegetable seller. She refuses to bring her price down despite the customer’s determined haggling.
As I drew hundreds of pictures I picked up the techniques quite naturally. Trial and error taught me to use brush and paint and ink. Others besides Narayan began to ask me to illustrate their stories for them.
When I grew up and became a full-time cartoonist, I had little time to paint or to illustrate stories. But I did draw Thama the baby elephant, little bird Gumchikki who was his best friend, and other woodland creatures. My wife Kamala wrote stories about their adventures in the jungle.
But back in boyhood I found that Narayan could be quite a grim elder brother. He thought it was his duty to make me a better child, teach me good manners and proper behaviour. He would order me to stop biting my nails—or else...! But since he chewed his nails as he said it, the words had little effect. He would scold me for using my shirt front to wipe my hands and face. ‘How many times should I tell you that there are towels for just this purpose?’ He would forbid me to climb trees or ride the cycle crossbar at breakneck speed. Tell me, can any boy obey such rules?
The worst was when he banned the use of our garden for playing cricket. As the captain of The Rough and Tough and Jolly Cricket Team, I lugged my bats and stumps and led my team mates in a frustrating search for a games field. But though Narayan did not relent, he wrote about my misery in a story called ‘The Regal Cricket Club’. My brother did not think it was strange that he should sympathize so heartily with me in his writing, but not in life!
I must tell you something about Mysore where I grew up. Before India got her independence from the British, Mysore was a princely state. It had a Maharaja ruling over it. He thought that he was a god and his state was the whole world. Most of his subjects thought the same—especially when he put on splendid shows for the people in his royal court, and outdoors during festivals.
The Dussehra festival in Mysore was justly famous. A long and fabulous procession would march past the open-mouthed crowds. There were show horses, trained by Europeans, which danced along daintily to Western tunes. Jewels gleamed on their sleek white bodies. Under petromax lights they looked like fairy creatures. There were richly decorated camels in that procession, looking disdainful about everything! And of course the most splendid sight that we waited for—the elephants! How gorgeous they looked—covered as they were with gold and velvet!
From the palace the Maharaja would go to the Banni Mandap. Banni was a tree he worshipped with ancient rites. The crowds packing the streets would shout ‘Victory to the Emperor! Maharaja ki Jai! The king was dressed in a long coat of gold brocade on which huge emeralds sparkled between diamonds. A jaunty feather rose from his turban. It was fastened with a brooch of rubies.
But wb hove got to keep it here, sir, till the capitol is paid. This was pledged as security?
The Maharaja did look majestic as he swayed along on the silk-lined howda on top of the biggest elephant in the procession. Behind him came the royal family, suitably mounted according to rank. There were guests and British visitors. They were seated on chairs arranged on enormous chariots, each as big as a room. These open chariots were drawn by elephants. Then came the Mysore Lancers, rigid and upright on their horses, holding their lances at an angle. Each regiment had its own colours— blue and white, red and blue or green and red. The palace band provided rousing music as an accompaniment to this fantastic spectacle.
I was taken to the court a few times. The Maharaja was a lover of classical music and famous musicians would sing for him. But the way in which these musicians came and went seemed quite funny to me. They were brought to the ground floor in the palace, made to sit on a platform with their instruments. (Everyone had to wear a turban; it was a mark of respect to the king!) When the Maharaja came to court and sat down on his throne, the platform would rise up like a lift through a shaft, to his floor, and reach his presence. The concert would begin and go on for about an hour. When the Maharaja signalled the end, the stage would start moving, back to the ground floor again, with all the musicians still seated on it. As soon as the stage began to descend, the musicians would launch themselves hurriedly into the Mangalam—a song which is always sung at the end of a Carnatic music concert. Halfway through, the sounds seemed to come up from a deep well!
But I must say that Mysore had a very elegant way of life. We dressed well, we were expected to be well-mannered. We used to laugh at our Madras cousins who went about without shirts, wearing just a dhoti round their waist.
I cannot end without telling you about my school. I began to attend classes when I was five years old. 1 hated school. A normal feeling. Tell me, which child likes to go to school? I felt wretched in the classroom. I am convinced that school-learning is unnatural and bad for human beings.
In school we sat on the floor and chorused our lessons. The teachers were terrible. They would write something on the board, ask us to take it down and go out to gossip or to smoke beedis. I was very naughty. I got punished and thrashed quite often. But it did not stop me from mischief.
My family insisted that I should attend school, but did not scold me when I failed exams. I barely managed to pass each year. It was the same story when I joined college. I scraped through my BA examinations. What a relief it was to know that I need never go into a classroom again!
After this I tried getting a job as a cartoonist in New Delhi. But The Hindustan Times told me I was too young to be a newspaper cartoonist. I was more successful in Bombay. I got work in The Blitz and the Free Press Journal. Besides cartoons I did comic strips telling the stories of Tantri the Magician and other ‘heroes’. Very soon I made a name for myself and joined a big English newspaper, The Times of India. For forty-seven years I have been drawing cartoons for its front page. A stamp was brought out to celebrate the 150th year of this newspaper, and the picture on it was one of my cartoons.
Yes, I have worked very hard and long. But I have not forgotten that you can see the world through pieces of coloured glass. Nor have I lost my love for those noisy black birds which are always around us, managing to survive. I continue to paint crows with as much enjoyment as I did on those long ago days of carefree childhood, when each day was exciting and every hour brought adventure.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Prince of Paudanapura.... Gomateshwara

It was 5.30 on a hot, sticky evening. We stood at the beginning of a narrow, winding little strip of road. The main street of a little town called Karkala, normally just wide enough to accommodate 2 Tata Sumos, that too cheek-to-2inches-away-cheek. But today, it had somehow miraculously stretched to ferry what by the end of that day would be at least 30,000 – 40,000 people, not to mention several hundred cars, tempos, jeeps and buses up to the foot of and then to the top of a hill of black granite. Kari Kallu. (From which Karkala got its name.) Where the Lord Bahubali stood a majestic 42 feet high, carved out of the same black granite as the hill. In the same patient, impassive serenity in which he had stood for the past 470 years, towering over the lush, emerald, coastal countryside that lay around his feet like some auspicious green offering…..

It was the 8th day of the Maha Mastakabhiseka of Lord Bahubali in Karkala and we, like countless others, had come to pay our respects…

Pilgrimages are supposed joyous journey, where you hurtle towards your destination, infused with divine fervor and prayer, unmindful of hardship. But as I stood contemplating the prospect of fighting my way through that dusty, raucous, cheerful press of humanity, the only feeling I had – apart from a raging thirst and a sensation of having freshly bathed in warm coconut oil - was a strong desire to turn tail and run….

Strangely enough, I didn’t. 

Miracle number one.  The first of the many miracles that evening. Nothing spectacular, mind you, the bigger miracles already having happened like the elastic main street but miracles all the same and they were going to dot the evening about as often as the number of times I would mutter “Impossible!” and as many as the number of times I wanted to turn back. And almost as many as the number of people who by now jammed Rubber Road.

It was now 6 pm. We had made it to main office complex of the Mastakabhiseka Organizing Committee. Normally a 5-minute walk, but the combination of my mother’s arthritic knees and the crowd-jam made that into 25. We stopped. We had to. To recuperate and for me and my sister-in-law to figure out how to wangle the all important, magenta-coloured car pass that would allow our car up the hill. But that was one miracle that didn’t happen. We spotted several known faces in the crowd. Actually my mother did. Childhood playmates, Father-in-laws of nieces. Nephews four times removed (From what. I don’t know.) Brothers of aunts-in-law. Sons of cousin sisters-in-laws. All now importantly grizzled and/or distinguishedly pot-bellied members of the organizing committee. Naturally most of them didn’t recognize us. Naturally. We had that glittery-eyed, “can-you-get-us-a-car-pass?” desperate expression on our faces.

But for every acquaintance/relative/friend/relative-of-a-relative who didn’t recognize us, a face would suddenly pop out of the crowd, stick itself into my mother’s and say wondrously, “Sunanda, is it not?” (Sunanda is also the name of Lord Bahubali’s mother. My mother was so christened because she was born on the first day of the Rathotsava that happens every year in Lord Bahubali’s honour in Karkala.).  They rallied around us, chatting, smiling and promising to somehow get us up the hill. Miracle number four, five, six, seven…. I was beginning to lose count. By now it was 7.30 pm. We – me, my mum and my sister-in-law - were each two Pepsis, one ice cream, two idlis and several bottles of mineral water down. And we had one green vehicle pass, useless as it only allowed us to go everywhere but to the top of the hill….

The crowd, now dust-choked, laced with the deafening, scratchy sounds from the pa system and picked out by blinding floodlights, was so dense that one more ant and we should’ve all either been suffocated and/or asphyxiated to death. But we didn’t, the miracles now thickening the air almost as much as the dust. Not only did we all survive, but suddenly there was place in that steaming, teeming crush for an entire procession of floats filled with gaudy, tinsel-tawdry Hanumans, Garudas, Yakskhagana dancers in giant masks, Asuras and Rakshasas and finally a rather shaky, yellow, papier-mache replica of Lord-Bahubali-on-top-of-the-hill. Sweaty-to-sweaty-smiling-body, we stood patiently watching, the gaudy glitter somehow easing our collective exhaustion…

Finally it was time. For the last lap. To the top of the hill. The car pass crusade having failed, the only way up was either to walk – my mother’s knees vetoed that - or then go in one of the official vehicles organized to ferry people up and down hill. There were a grand total of 3 tempos at each of which there were only about 30-40 people throwing themselves frenziedly, trying to get in. I stared in horror, thinking the quota of miracles must’ve dried up. There was no way we were going to get into that and live. But I forgot that it was going to be another 12 years to the next Mastakabhisheka and my Lord Bahubali must have decided to pull out all stops.  Incredibly, before I could say “Gomateshwara”, we were inside a tempo. Barely breathing, more sardines than any can had ever seen and me almost crushed by the behemoth, bosomy body of a particularly large, sweaty, co-bhaktin but we were in. And moving….

The last miracle of the evening. We were finally sitting at the feet of Lord Bahubali. Towering into the perfect night sky, his distant stone face so exquisitely serene, his smile so beautifully peaceful that all the frenzy, all the madness, all the heat and the dust, all the manic heaving and clawing was a distant thing that must have happened ….let me see know…., 11 years ago? A soft, soothing night breeze gently ruffled our souls and then….

The Maha Mastakabhisheka started….
First the transparent waters cascaded down the Lord’s body – plain water, then tender coconut and finally sugarcane juice, wetting the granite to a beautiful, glistening gray-black.  Kari Kallu.  As the chants of the mantras rose up into the cool night air like sweet incense, somewhere a voice rose, singing in praise of the Lord. “Bahubali Swami, Jagatina Swami….” Lord of the World. Bathed in the sweet waters of peace. The crowd swayed gently. The sea of ecstasy had begun churn.
Next, the abhisheka of milk, covering the Lord’s body in thin veils of what seemed like long, floaty, white chiffon, draping those mighty shoulders and arms that gave him his name. Bahubali. The crowd collectively sighed. The white flood thickened and whitened; lovingly, adoringly caressing the Lord’s face whose smile seemed to have deepened just a little. Was he pleased, I thought? Was he who we called “Kewal Gyani” just a little distracted because even if for a few hours, even if just atop a little hill, there was peace? Ahimsa was indeed Parmodharam that soft, moonlit night….

Then it was the turn of what looked like heavenly mists, wrapping themselves around the Lord’s body. First rice flour and then a concoction of spices hit black granite and bounced off in huge, white misty cloud-puffs that first hesitated in the air for a few seconds, then gently wafted over the crowds like blessings. It seemed as if black granite had become white marble. And the whiteness filled everything as if to say, “peace, peace, peace be with you…”

The tempo picked up. Rhythms merged - tabla, bodies, heartbeats, breaths. We knew what was to come; yet the excitement was palpable. And then, suddenly, in a thick, golden rush, as if it couldn’t wait anymore, the haldi flood. The crowd gasped. “Bahubali Bhagwan ki jai!” it shouted in joy as it swayed faster and clapped. As the rivers of gold poured 4 storeys down, drenching everything, a group of gold-dusted dancers sprung out of the crowd and danced in a dizzy frenzy of yellow joy. Faster and faster, round and round, flailing, flinging, almost falling….. And as if the rivers of gold needed help, the gold mists arrived. Dense clouds of turmeric powder flew off the Lord’s body and there was gold everywhere – in our eyes, our hair, our hearts, even the moon it seemed couldn't resist the goldenness and turned a pale silvery-gold…


We caught our breaths while water washed away the white and the gold. And once again, cool, serene black granite stood before us. We knew this was the last lap, moving quickly towards the glorious climax. This time the flood was red; brick-red; thick fragrant red as the scent of sandalwood filled the air. Srigandha, they call it. Blessed fragrance. People rushed to the base of the statue to fill bottles, cups, glasses, even dipping pieces of cloth and soaking it in the red flood. Little smears of the sacred flood passed from hand to hand, blessing thousands of foreheads. Then the red changed. This time a startling, stunning, breathtakingly scarlet confluence of 8 fragrances - sandal, camphor, saffron, clove, cardamom, vermilion -coming together to adore the once proud and beautiful Prince of Paudanapura, now the Eternal Prince of Peace. The night flushed proudly….

“Rang ma rang ma rang gayo re
Sara hi jag ma tera rang gayo….”

The crowd was now in an ecstatic frenzy. Hands and faces and bodies all a blur; singing, clapping, laughing. Now, the final word. And it had to be the flowers’. Millions of marigolds, jasmine and rose petals cascaded down, embedding themselves into the glistening scarlet-vermilion which now looked as if it was encrusted all over with a filigree of gold and white. As a giant garland of flowers slowly went up, a rash of emerald and ruby fireworks fought with the moon and stars to light up the sky. We didn't know where to look. It was almost too much. And then, magically, remote-controlled it seemed by some divine hand, a giant plate of diyas rose from the feet of Bahubali and swayed upwards. Left to right, then up and up, in time to the crowd’s ecstasy. Up to the heavens, the golden light licking the flower-encrusted Lord. Glory, glory, glory. The final mangalaarti. It was as if there was no moment before this, no moment after, that this was Eternity, this was where even Time stood still to savour such a sight….. 


 (Interesting facts about Bahubali, the Mastakabhisheka and Karkala.)                  

Out of the four images of Lord Bahubali in Karnataka, the image at Karkala is the second tallest - nearly 42 ft tall and the second in antiquity, having been commissioned in 1432 AD by the King Veera Pandya II, which earned him the title of Abhinava Chamundaraya. The tallest (57feet) and the oldest ((981 A.D.) is at Shravanabelagola, the other two being at Vennur (1604 A.D. and 35 ft) and Dharmastala in South Karnataka.

It’s not for nothing that it was called the Mahamastakabhisheka.
Everyday, 150 litres of cane juice, 150 tender coconuts, 600 litres of milk, 75 kgs of rice flour, 130 kgs of turmeric, 75 kgs of sandalwood, 75 kgs of ashtagandha which is a combination of 8 ingredients including camphor, kumkum, saffron, cardamom, clove and sandalwood and several hundred kilos of flowers were poured from a height of about 45 feet over the Lord Bahubali’s head.  Not to mention thousands of litres of water.

 Apart from the image of Bahubali, Karkala is steeped in other antiquities of Jainism. There are 18 Jain basadi or temples, dating back at least 400 years, of which the most famous in the Chaturmukha Basadi, so named because each of its 4 doors open to face each direction on the compass. It is on the same hill as the Bahubali statue. The Kere Basadi is similar in design but its uniqueness is in the fact that it is built in the centre of a huge lake called the Aanekere, thus named because as the legend goes, in ancient times, the king’s elephants used to be bathed in the lake! (“Aane” is elephant and “Kere” is lake in Kannada.)

"Upon the outskirts of the town.... the enchanted castles of fairy tales came back to mind, for on the top is seen a castle like wall pierced with a wide-arched entrance, and a dark gigantic form towering over it waist high...the image 45 feet in height. Nude, cut from a single mass of granite, darkened by the monsoons of centuries, the vast statue stands upright with hands hanging straight, in a posture of somewhat stiff but simple dignity. The hair grows in close crisp curls; the broad fleshy cheeks might make the face seem heavy were it not for the marked and dignified expression conferred by calm, forward-gazing eyes and aquiline nose, somewhat pointed at tip...The arms which touch the body only at the hips; are remarkably long, the large well-formed hands, and fingers reaching to knees." Excerpts from Frazer’s Magazine, an influential Victorian magazine in England.

No questions asked

There is an empty house opposite ours.
Nobody has lived there for years now.
The only reason why it hasn't fallen to disrepair is because a relative of the owner comes and looks in once in a while

There are three trees there
One inside the house and two outside
The one inside is a red hibiscus

The two outside are parijata

Nobody looks after them
Nobody waters them
Except the rain

And nobody knows why
The three trees survive
Not only survive but flower
Not only flower, but flower
So generously
So unfailingly
That every morning, people come
And pluck the flowers
The hibiscus off from the tree
The parijata from the ground
Fallen like fragrant white-and-orange snow

All kinds of people.
Many people
Many, many people
All through the morning
They pluck
They peck
They snatch
(They say it is for the Gods...)
Till all the flowers are gone
Even the hibiscus buds

Till the next morning...
When once again
The trees are ready
With the flowers
For the people who come
Many, many people

The trees never ask why
Nobody cares for them
Nobody waters them

They just give
Without any questions asked
The people take

And every morning
The hibiscus
And the parijata

No questions asked.