Friday, March 9, 2012
I recently finished Indu Sundaresan’s “The Feast of Roses” and I thought the book made a really good read. It is not a literary masterpiece by any benchmark, but Sundaresan has done extensive research on Jahangir and Nur Jahan and it shows.
I have read the prequel, “The Twentieth Wife” too, but as a history enthusiast, this book held my interest more, for “The Twentieth Wife” is largely the love story of Nur Jahan and Jahangir, whereas this book begins with Jahangir marrying Mehrunnisa as his twentieth wife. Her ascent to power, at a time when women were regarded only as a commodity is extremely entertaining and interesting. She, of course, used Jahangir’s blind love to manipulate him and reach her ends, but we need to look at this through a glass tinted with time. This probably was the only way she could have done it and even that was unheard of, during those times. Women, back then, did not even have a say in whether her husband could marry some X or Y princess, or bring a lady to the harem. And in times like these, Nur Jahan was the last lady to be married by Jahangir, and I think this is a testimony enough for the lady that she was! And in the same breath, I need to take the name of Jahangir, who stood up to show his support for Nur Jahan and even granted her the privilege to mint coins under her name and come to the jharoka to listen to the citizens’ problems and offer advice. No Indian king seems to have accorded such importance to his queens (in the books that I have read, only Kundavai from Ponniyin Selvan comes close to the kind of power wielded by Nur Jahan, but being a Mughal queen must have made the feat much more difficult for her than Kundavai, who was a Hindu princess). And that very act is evidence of Jahangir’s monumental love, much bigger than the Taj Mahal built for her niece (Mumtaz Mahal was Nur Jahan’s niece) by Shah Jahan. As Dumbledore rightly says, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends”, Jahangir had to face stiff opposition even from the closest of his friends for the freedom and power he had bestowed upon Mehrunnisa. There is not a lot of evidence to show that Mehrunnisa misused this favour and I would like to believe that she put it to use the same way a king would have!
The book takes us through a lot of incidents of historic significance, without giving us the feel of a documentary. The abduction of Jahangir by Mahabat Khan, Shah Jahan’s cold blooded murders of his brothers, Khusrau and Shahryar (the third died on his own before Shah Jahan had a chance to kill him too), the Portuguese burning of the Indian trade ships due to the imperial court’s favour for the English etc. Interestingly, Mughal kings and queens used to own trade ships which used to be a source of their income in addition to the mansabs they enjoyed. And mercifully, ladies too were allowed to own ships and earn money!
Mehrunnisa’s characterization is rock solid with her arrogance and headstrongness never leaving her till her death. Why she wants power is never sufficiently explained, but that is a common human weakness and one does not need a reason to desire power. She doggedly looks after her self interests and the Emperor’s (I suspect that’s because his well being was the only chance of her well being) and Sundaresan has never shown her to be emotional or confused, just because a woman protagonist has to have some moments of weakness. I have come to like Nur Jahan, despite all her shortcomings, mainly because she broke free her shackles, did not allow the society to dictate how she must live, lived with only one purpose: to be the most powerful voice in the Empire and never ever felt guilty about her ambition. I would love to read more about her and I think she was truly a woman who broke the glass ceiling the way we know it today. It is a good thing that the post coincides with Women’s day! I could not have come up with a worthier subject!
Sunday, February 12, 2012
But my treatment of it has become a little more mature. Like the prayer that says, "Give me the power to change things that I can, and the wisdom to accept those I cannot". Work is now no more very bothersome. In fact,it is the break that I take between doing things I like to do! And for that I have to thank my stars and office a gazillion times!
I have been coming home to something every single day: some days its the books I have read and re-read countless times: Harry Potter, Ponniyin Selvan or Gone with the wind. Some days its the new ones : The Kingkiller Chronicles (Very highly recommended for fans of fantasy), Thiruvarangan Ula, Made in America. Some other day its a movie I have downloaded in the morning (I alone have been using up 30 GB every month ;) ) or a series I have taken a strong liking to. Other day its some article on photography I had bookmarked in the morning or a scheduled show on NatGeo Wild. So, when I leave for work, I know exactly what I am going to do that night. And that keeps me insanely happy for the entire day (so much for calling myself unplanned, but yeah, if you prefer, I guess I am a very short term planner). There is some strange and positive energy thrumming within, all day, idling only during office hours ;)
I do wonder if there is any medical condition which is the exact opposite of clinical depression. But if there is, I am sure it needs to go untreated! A small voice keeps telling me that I am a misanthrope, who revels in living so much by myself, but I am sure I am not that. I have a family and a friends' circle that I love a lot, so in the steps towards self-actualization, realizing why I am so happy should be the next step :D
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Friday, April 8, 2011
They say familiarity breeds contempt. But mine is a curious case. Familiarity bred no contempt, because time robbed the familiarity. If I say familiarity is knowing what you eat, what you wear, what you do and what you think. But my definition surely lacks substance. I m sure it should be much more than that.
But looking at yesterday, I would still say you were familiar. Even though I don’t understand what it completely means. I thought you were with me when I laughed, when I cried, when I read, and hell, when I slept. You knew the passage I loved, you knew the soap I used, and you even knew the last movie I watched on my laptop. I used to be worried sick when you were not well, I always knew the joke that would make you laugh and I could tell in my sleep when you had to go to the tailor to collect your dress. If this is not familiarity, I don’t know what is.
Time hurts as much as it heals. Especially when I have too much of it and you too little of it. It makes me wonder who would want to listen to those stories I used to bore you with. Of course, wondering has produced no results so far. But I know you are caught up in no such web of trivial needs. You adapt and you adapt fast. And I try something neutral between admiration and resentment, but settle closer towards the latter. It is not your fault that you have a new pair of ears to fill in and it is definitely not your fault that we are looking at different things: you at the future and I at the past. The divergence is strangely unable to obliterate the memories I cling to. The ones I know I should not. But if you offer to erase them for me, I would politely decline. For I know they would be the only reminders of you, in the next many days to come… As Adichie says, “Heart is where home was”, and home is where familiarity is.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
As Japan battles the after effects of the disastrous quake and the tsunami, one cannot but wonder why nature chooses Japan to unleash her fury every now and then. As a country which worships nature, as people who revere everything from water to mountains to flowers, you would think Japan must be deriving a lot of benefits from the resources bestowed by nature. But facts point otherwise. Despite a 70% forest cover, this country decided not to exploit its forest resources for economic gains, may be due to its deep rooted Shintoism, and imports most of its food, energy and other raw materials. And from the rest 30% of its land (for context, Germany seems to have 30% forest cover, US 33%, India 21%, China is still hoping to reach 20%), Japan grew to be the second largest GDP in the world (until very recently) emitting 4.5% of the total carbon emissions of the world (2007 figure, but could not have changed much), against China at 22.3% and US at 19%. Must not be a co-incidence that the carbon emission protocol is named Kyoto protocol!
I am not aware of how industries in Japan achieve this, esp with the country among the leading automobile exporters of the world (I am actually hoping for a discrepancy in the figures, given I have taken it from various sources). But that cannot dispute how environment conscious its people are, for here is look at how most people live (from NPR):
“He and his wife, Hitomi, don't own a car. They have a solar panel on the roof. They collect rainwater in an old whiskey barrel to water the plants, and they don't use dish soap. Shibata's biggest luxury is a wooden Japanese soaking tub, which he built himself. He sits in the tub after he has thoroughly scrubbed himself. After the soak, the bathwater is recycled — and reused for washing clothes. The process is facilitated by a simple hookup. Shibata guesses that about 5 percent of Japanese use a pump to send water from their bathtubs into washing machines. After the clothes are washed, Shibata does what most Japanese do: He dries his wash on an outdoor clothesline. Most Japanese don't own clothes dryers. Their clothing hangs on television-antennae-like racks that twirl around on their railings. "You get to see lots of clothes hanging. ... Don't see that in America. Space is very valuable here. If you can do without something, you do without it.”
The philosophy of Shinto must be largely responsible for the consciousness of environment and minimalism in everything they do. Shinto in its absolute sense is not seen as a religion by many as there are no Gods as such and only spirits called Kami. They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life, such as wind, rain, mountains, trees, rivers and fertility. Humans become kami after they die and are revered by their families as ancestral kami. It is touching to see that among things important to life they count trees and rivers rather than iPad and Facebook. In fact there is a story behind origination of the well known word ‘Kami-kaze’. In the 13th century, there were two failed attempts by the Mongolians to invade Japan under Kublai Khan. During the first attempt, close to 1000 vessels were sent to Japan with Mongolian warriors and when the Japanese Samurais were close to losing, there was reportedly a huge thunderstorm with torrential rains, which forced the Mongolians to go a little further into the sea to anchor for the night. In the morning, more than 300 vessels had drowned and the survivors turned back the vessels to their motherland. Not happy with the failure, Kublai Khan attempted to capture Japan once more, and sent around 3500 vessels to fight Japan for the second time. To be safer, this time the fleet was divided into two, one from Korea and another reaching from China. The Korean soldiers arrived first and were held back by Japanese for 50 days near the coast and as the Chinese reinforcement arrived to support the Korean fleet, a second typhoon lashed the coast and nearly all the reinforcement ships drowned again. Probably this was the last attempt by Mongolians to invade Japan, for they developed a fear that Nature Gods (Kami) were helping Japanese, and Japanese themselves called the typhoon Kami-Kaze, wind of the Gods.
But probably even nature suffers from certain fallacies similar to human beings – being lousy to those who love you, and realizing their value only if you are close to losing them! For no other explanation would justify why the nation suffers, time and again at the hands of mother nature. But I am sure its just me and not a majority of Japanese who must be thinking this way… I read Guardian’s blog, calling Nature cruel and insensitive, while the few Japanese reporters’ blogs I read said that they respect nature more than ever now, for it shows that how-much-ever footprint we claim to leave, her footprints are always larger and more long lasting. Revering what destroys you is unique and a not-so-human quality and puts them among the most spiritual people in the world. Probably this gives them the excellence they demonstrate in everything they do and admiring them is pretty much all one can do from here. Long live the nation!
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
The hottest topic doing rounds among the Hindi speaking and movie watching junta is "Dhobi Ghaat".
Thursday, April 22, 2010
There was a power cut yesterday night. Went to the terrace. The sky was a brilliant blue. More black than blue, but you could still make out the blue hue in it. No stars. no moon. No other light nearby. Felt extremely liberated under the cosmic canopy. Thoughts just got blocked out of my mind. I probably lost my comprehension. My cognizance. Felt insanely happy I think. Can't recall the last time something moved me so powerfully. So effortlessly. Wanted to run down and get my camera, but stood riveted.
Wind howled like crazy and then was the time for some brilliant fireworks in the sky. Purple light rays cut through the dark blue sheet; Mildly in the beginning and more savagely later. What started as a point of light in one corner became a silver bolt travelling monstrously across the expanse. Branches of white light appeared everywhere and it looked like a divine discotheque. Purple, white, blue and grey crackling the clouds all around me. Raw power emanated from everything above me! I found myself almost wishing for a lightning to come and strike me. Was thoroughly exhilarated by the dangerous beauty. Am now reminded of the disconnect I have with everything around me. Need to spend more time in nature's company :) ! That is my resolution for today.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Some days back we had this terrible class on investment banking where we had to give a presentation on some restructuring strategies for a company. We thought we had done our homework and in fact all the groups had done some good analysis. But we somehow did not strike a chord with the Prof who was ill tempered right from the morning. The diatribe which followed our presentations would go down as the worst I have faced in my academic life so far. Every small mistake was highlighted and the presenters were torn apart with criticism. The whole class heaved a sigh of relief when it was 6:30, time for the class to get over.
Five minutes later, the entire finance batch was in the bus going to the city! Everyone wanted to put the day behind them and have some good time. So we went to the city, laughing all the way about some of the comments made in the class. Only when we reached the city did I realize that I had no idea where to go. I just wanted to be out of the campus and did not think for a minute as to where I should go.
Then I thought I would go to the Naturals Ice cream bar in Aundh as its one shop which never fails to cheer me up. And when I reached Naturals I saw a new Crossword store next to it. I went inside on an autopilot and started browsing. There was this book in the new arrivals which caught my attention, “Half of a Yellow Sun”. The book has been written by an African writer by the name Adichie and has won quite a few awards for fiction in 2007-2008.
I flipped the pages and read some lines here and there and got mesmerized by what I was reading. But when I saw this line, “Is love the safety I feel in our silences?”, I knew I had to buy the book. There was just no walking away from it!!
What followed the purchase is too short to be described. I read the book. I did nothing else! I remembered nothing else! The two and a half days is the shortest 60 hours of my life! I was sucked so deep into the characters and the situations and was laughing and crying along with the lead characters in it.
The plot is simple. The story is set in 60s Nigeria against the backdrop of the Nigerian civil war. There is this Odenigbo, charismatic and rebellious professor in Nsukku university, then there is Olanna, his wife, friend and philosopher who is very pretty and very human, in the sense you and me can identify with her most of the time, and lastly there is Kainene, Olanna’s twin, enigmatic, moody and distant. These three have very complex relationships with each other and Richard, Kainene’s boyfriend and a white journalist.
Most of the story is told through the eyes of Ugwu, the domestic help of Odenigbo. Odenigbo’s family loves Ugwu as their own son. The best part of this novel is the way in which human weaknesses are portrayed. No character is shown in black and white. Everyone is shown to be human in more ways than one. They display fear, arrogance, haste, regret, love, humour, joy, hope, despair etc in such a way that you want to reach out and comfort them when they are sad, kick them when they act superior and curse them when they kill their love. You root for their happiness right from the start as the love story between Odenigbo and Olanna is one of the most beautiful I have read in the recent times. There is a betrayal, then follows the hurt, then the revenge, then the realization that their love Is still alive, then their next realization that now their love is not going to be above suspicion, and their resignation to that fact are all told in such a gentle and touching tale that you cannot escape shedding some tears every now and then.
Kainene is portrayed as someone who is a hard nut to crack. Her own boyfriend is enchanted but pained by the enigma she is to him and some of her dialogues are so profound that she goes down as the most favorite character from this book (and most of the others I have read). She is a challenge to people near her and no action of hers in unjustified, but none can be justified either. The bitterness she shares with her twin because she is way prettier than her might remind you of people from you past who made you feel uglier than you really are! She bowls you over with her courage and frankness and if I need to ever have a role model from the books I have read, it would undoubtedly be Kainene. She later mellows down and revives the bond with her sister but before you can rejoice, there comes an important twist in the tale.
There is a very subtle humor which runs throughout the book despite the serious backdrop and surprisingly quite a few places make you laugh aloud too!! The premise for most of our so-called civil wars is very beautifully explained and you don’t amateurishly think anymore that language and land are stupid reasons to fight a war. What is happening in most of the African nations is plain legacy of the British rule and Nigeria civil war is no exception. But what is exceptional is hearing the story and justifications through an insider’s voice. War time diseases, war time love, war time cooking etc make you count each of your blessings twice.
Just to reiterate, don’t miss reading this book. You will be glad that you did when you finish this. Some philosophical thoughts and melancholy will haunt you a few days after completion, but then it is what makes this book so special. You connect with it. Totally! An emotionally honest book which makes you feel liberated from invisible bondage once you read it.
Next to read – Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus ! If there is one person I would like to meet right now and talk to, its Adichie. I have completely fallen in love with her words. And don't for a moment feel that I have reviewed this book. I am not qualified at all to do that. I just have tried to introduce this book to as many as I can and may be give an outlet to the satisfaction I feel ever since I completed this book.
Monday, March 9, 2009
It was a chilly morning. As usual I had got up in time for the morning walk. It was snowing mildly and I made a mental note to carry my snow umbrella as I unleashed Timmy. He snuggled against my legs to drive away the chillness. I bent down and held his cold snout against my face for a minute and gave him a peck on his forehead. I put on my muffler. We went out and locked the door behind us and started our walk along the usual route. The road was deserted as sun's rays had not yet penetrated the thick clouds to lick away all the snow.
I stopped at my favorite coffee shop to buy a strong cup of black coffee and a salt less croissant for Timmy. Obama was smiling at me from a wet tabloid and I gave away the change to get myself a copy. Timmy snorted. He knew that he would be on his own now as I would drown myself into the tabloid. He tried to release himself from my grip, but knowing him as well as I did, I had anticipated this and had tightened my fist around the leash. I let him guide me as I started browsing the front page. We passed the familiar smells of morning blossoms near the joggers' track and the sounds of the snow crunching under the spikes of the early morning joggers.
I kept telling myself not to expect him on the track. He had been married just for a week and there would be no reason why he would come out for a round in this hostile weather. Was it the reason for me to choose a walk now despite the cold? I did not want to answer it. I knew he was married but was just not prepared to meet him yet. I tried to read carefully what Obama planned to do with the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. I realized the futileness of the attempt and lowered my hand exasperatedly. Timmy gave an excited woof and got back an equally cheerful yap. My heart started racing. No! "Dear God, Let it not be Saber. Please", I prayed fervently. And uselessely.
Timmy freed himself in a flash and ran towards Saber. Both bit and smelled each other as if to convey how irresponsible we were to have kept them apart for more than a fortnight. I gathered my courage to look up and away from Saber. "Does the crooked grin ever leave his face?" I thought wearily. There he was, standing and smiling at me, as I wondered if he had been really away for fifteen days. The lines near his eyes were the same, the blue i-pod clipped to his t-shirt was the same, and the white tick mark on his black tracks was just the same… There was only one change though. He had company this time. From a little distance, she looked every bit as pretty as someone like him deserved to have. And I had no wish to observe her closely. Words escaped my mouth as I cursed myself for being so impolite towards his wife. "Hi!", I said feebly and extended my hand towards her. She smiled brightly as he introduced me to her.
I was afraid that the tears stinging would somehow escape my eyes. I looked away in the general direction of Timmy and Saber and remarked dumbly, "They have missed each other a lot, haven't they?". "Sure looks like it", he said. "Saber was terribly bored during the marriage too. No one could handle him smoothly. I managed to find some time for him in between the ceremonies, but I wished you were there."
I looked at his face to see if there was more to his words than what they conveyed. No clue. Inscrutable as always. "Huh-huh", I said perfunctorily.
"If it were not for the emergency bug fix, you know I would not have missed it for anything".
His face clearly showed that he did not buy one word of what I said.
Suddenly the alarm in his watch started ringing loudly. The same Sonata No. 28. He absent mindedly switched it off. My stomach lurched. Was he too unable to sleep? Or did he get up before the alarm to meet me? It would not have been difficult for him to guess the extent I would go to avoid him, at least presently. Or did he even realize that I had a reason to avoid him? I felt unsure as always.
"I have told her a lot about you" he said and put his arm on her shoulder lightly.
My shoulder seared like molten iron.
"I hope it was something nice!"I said.
"Of course!" he said. "I told her that you could beat me in the 800m dash we used to have sometimes".
I could not believe that it was all he could tell about me to his wife. I glanced at my watch. I could not bear to look at him directly.
"Let's give the dogs five more minutes and then we can move on" he said evenly. Damn! If he could understand the dogs so easily, what could have been so difficult about me??
The unspoken words formed a lump in my throat and obstructed my breathing.
"Is that all you could tell her about me?"
He beamed mischievously. Blood rushed to my face. I became conscious of his wife's presence. I did not want her to notice me. Him, he anyway does not…
He never extracted from me what he was to me. And he had always kept me unsure of what I had been to him.
He looked thoughtful. Probably he too was cursing me the same way. Or probably it was just wishful thinking.
"What are you thinking about?" I would have asked him under normal circumstances. But I reminded myself that he was now a married man and not eligible for receiving my un-identifiable passes at him.
"If you are free this weekend, why don't you join us for dinner?" his wife offered.
"Good idea. She will come. Wont you?" he said.
I felt like Scarlett O Hara for a minute. I was prepared to throw myself against a married man and ask what he felt about me. I gripped myself and said "I would love to! I will give you a call to confirm"
He looked sincerely happy. I felt sure this time that I had not mattered to him in that sense. Else would he not be experiencing the same conflict within? But here he is, genuinely happy about my coming.
It made me feel slightly better. After all, the decision not to open up without knowing his side was correct. I would have made a fool of myself.
"See you both then" I waved. He took out a hand kerchief from his pocket to wipe his forehead. It was the same he had picked up from my track pocket a few months back. Had he preserved it? Why? Was it his idea of some kind of indicator?
I felt dizzy. I was tired of such mental jigsaws.
"Come on Timmy", I violently pulled poor Timmy and started walking in the opposite direction, leaving him behind. His glance burned hot on my neck but I never turned back. Tomorrow is anyway another day…