Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mera Bharat Mahan- The swinging cow!

( Image courtesy Google)

I am walking my dog around 7 this morning. Like most crazy dogs( & I am of the belief that mine can win an award for craziness), when I walk left he runs towards the right, when I sternly look at him and take him to the right he has suddenly decided that he must walk on the center of the on and so forth, while I'm cursing and running after him, suddenly as if from nowhere appears one of these cows, who are taken around as a part of religious significance on Indian roads. The dog seems to have completely lost his head and barks like the sky is about to fall off. The cow of course looks right through him, snorts and ignores, all of these miraculously in one tandem, while I look on amazed at her attitude. Both creatures are adamant and refuse to leave their position in the middle of the road.

Suddenly a radio from the neighborhood blasts 'Oh meri zohra jabi, tujhe maloom nahi, tu ab tak hain haseen aur main jawan'( Roughly translates to-Oh my beautiful, you don't realize but you're still beautiful and I'm young). The cow seems happy, swishes the tail magnificently, releases some dung and walks off swaying like a Bharatnatyam dancer from the back. My dog is totally confused, he however wants to make the most of the opportunity and probably the last bark, so he pees scathingly into the cows legs and walks off. Mera Bharat Mahan!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

A man called India

Sometime back, I went trekking in interior Karnataka. A patch in the clearing on the forest road we saw a few huts. An old man sat near the edge of the road. While passing him , I smiled at him and he began talking in his own language at once. I asked the forest guide to interpret what he was saying. I was told that he had asked where I was from..When I told him I was from Bangalore, he nodded his head wisely and asked again if I had a house and cows there. I tried to answer this complicated question about the cows and house as well as I could..He looked at me amazed and shook his head.

Strangely I felt sorry for myself at that is in moments like these when India looks like a phantom to me and I am as much a foreigner perhaps because I don't understand this India, as much as I should. I sat down next to him and asked him if he thought I was a foreigner?

He looked at me and said, 'If you set foot on a land and start loving it, there is no foreign soil.' He explains how it is the dry month, the river bed almost dried up and when rain comes around is like a happy song. I tried to explain then that I am a writer and while he looked at me quizzically, I said I would write something for him. His understanding of my foreign expressions, he reciprocated with a toothless smile. When I went back home, in the heart of a dense city, somehow I missed the hunched some strange way I had discovered a bit of India in him. 

Few lines for an old man called India-

There is perhaps a poem in most of us-
Somehow a bit like nature.

When I talk to old people or plants,
dry and somehow forgotten,
I see them shake up a bit-
peep out of a curiosity filled coffin,
sprout a leaf and take root again

© 2013 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury

Friday, January 18, 2013

'The word of an Ant' ( a very short, short story)

Once upon a time there were two ants. The male ant was terribly in love with the female ant. He would always ask her to meet him for coffee, or samosa( with or without chutney), tea, dosa, basically whatever came off the land or kitchen they visited. The woman kept throwing tantrums and kept tarrying.

Once, both of them were walking inside a book. The book was a huge one and seemed to be full of dark and dense words that grappled with each other in trying to prove who was the better of the lot. They saw some wise looking greyish( as opposed to black) colored ants walking up and down these pages too. They more or less had the same posture, style, silence and pauses too, before they acknowledged the greatness or smallness of each word. The male ant observed curiously that their means of deciding greatness was always by making themselves stand against the word and measuring it up..instead of looking at its size and gravity from a distance.

In spite of his observations, the male ant hardly gave all this much thought, as he was primarily occupied in his endevour of get his lady love to have some coffee, tea with him. He was on page 6 and she on Page 3 when he called out, 'hey how about grabbing some tea, this place looks great." Fed up of his persuasion, she called out, "meet me at page 350".

The male ant was ecstatic, he did a little boogie woogie to himself and landed on some muddled words. He smiled at them and dusted them off from where they stuck to his pants, laughing and poking him. He didn't care a hoot about their laughter and in utter show of happiness, jumped and almost floated over pages 100 and managed to land rather ungraciously on page 250. 

What he saw there astonished him, all the words there seemed to be very happy, even the ants who were on this page looked more than satisfied, in fact they walked around with swollen chests and bent backs. The words had formed different circles, starting from small to big ones. Every now and then one would turn and pat the other's back and soon the other would do the same for the previous one too. It seemed a very happy and contented world. The male ant paused and wondered how they distinguished who was better than the other. But then how did that concern him, he thought and jumped on again. 

This time he landed right on page number 350. But he did not see his lady love anywhere, he kept looking around, North and South, East and West, but all he could see were a swirl of words..angry words, loving words, happy words, unhappy words..he wondered if they had been accepted, rejected and been in anger and sorrow just like himself. 

Suddenly, there was a snap, the huge book closed and with that the life of the ant and his dreams of page number 350 ended too and along with it the world full of love and that of some words he had imagined too.

'Never believe in words, especially vacant ones", were his last in-depth words.

©  2014 Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury

Monday, January 14, 2013

The why of Indian celebrations

I am always mesmerized by the agrian philosophies which dominate most Hindu festivals. The festival of Shankranti, Lohri, Pongla or Maag Bighu, or whatever name you call it by, depending on which part of the country you are, is celebrated today as a part of the tradition of celebrating the harvest of the winter crop. There are of course slight differences in the celebration from region to region, but the most predominant factor in all these celebrations is the burning of fire. The worship of Aagni, as it were. Interestingly Aagni as a God is perhaps mentioned the maximum number of times in the Vedic hymns, more than any other deity perhaps. But this isn't surprising given the importance of fire for man and especially in the life of a farmer. If fire can destroy an entire crop, it’s burning at this time also denotes the killing of many insects that are in abundance and harmful for crops. 

But over the years, not only is the fire God worshiped during this festival but people take it as a significance of burning of evil. In Assam, the night before Maag Bihu is known as 'Uruka', young men and women stay inside what is known as a 'Meji', built of straw and twigs. Food is cooked inside this and a fun tradition dictates stealing vegetables from the neighbor’s garden and cooking them, something that no one really minds. The next day the same Meji is burnt, Pitha s( flattened sweets, made like rice pancakes) are thrown into the fire. In Bengal, one hears of the Burir ghar( the house of the old lady) here the old lady is an evil woman who is the embodiment of all evil and she burns with the bonfire. Similarly in the North the festivities of Lohri include a bonfire, which is again perhaps significant of similar thinking.
Makar Shankranti is also supposed to be the last coldest day of the year, after which the temperatures start rising, signifying the end of winter. Today as I make pithas as a part of tradition and eat them by the bonfire in my little garden, I am reminded of fire and its role in the life of man, it sustains life, giving heat, scaring animals, cooking food and to the Hindus consuming the human body too. 

Perhaps more than ever in teaching these traditions to the younger generation, I teach the connect with nature that man has survived and is perhaps all the more necessary today to be understood because we have forgotten the touch of the earth.

Friday, January 11, 2013

To every anonymous woman, who cries alone

A Facebook status goes.."I want to die"...

Tired eyes and some wild hair
sprawling all over a face
just on the brink
of madness serene-

She cries out,
of her lonely golden cage,
at all those who look at her,
smile and vanish.

"I want to die" she whispers
and laughs out loud at her son
who grew,
with pity in every breath
and sarcasm in every smile-

I wish I had been raped,
she says-
No one understands,
the silent horrors of eloquent bliss,
nor the blood that runs,
frozen even in colours of spring..

© Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sita's songs


It is perhaps appropriate time to be reading 'Sita's Ramayana', the book written by Samhita Arni, and beautifully illustrated by Moyna Chitrakar which retells the epic, Ramayana from the perspective of the lady protagonist. In the original epic Sita the princess and wife of lord Rama, the most eligible bachelor and Dasharath's son lives a life where she sees a battle fought over her and is finally exiled into the forest, at a time when she is pregnant by her own husband. Her fault is that she had stayed with a Rakshasa for a substantial period of time and cannot prove her chastity.

It is perhaps about time I think that one told the Ramayana from Sita's perspective since unlike the heroine of the Mahabharata, (Draupadi who has always been percieved as a strong woman) Sita has always been percieved as weak, a creature forever crying, someone who has not stood up for her rights. Ramayana, as a work also focuses more on Rama the ideal man and Sita as a consequence more or less remains in the shadows. One does not really understand her pain or her feelings, strange because she being the very cause why the Lanka war was fought seems to remain in the background.

'Sita's Ramayana' tells the story from a modern woman's perspective also highlights briefly the plight of Sugriva's wife who was abducted by Vali. To avenge his own humiliation Sugriva seeks the help of Rama who agrees to fight and kill Vali on behalf of Sugriva. Sugriva's wife Ruma has stayed with Vali since the time she has been kidnapped by him and developed feelings for Vali. Hence when Rama, who is hiding in the bushes kills Vali, she is aghast that Vali is dead. She is even more aghast when Sugriva asks her to become his wife again immediately after the killing of Vali. When Hanumana, the monkey follower of Rama narrates this particular incident to Sita while she is still in captivity, Sita is concerned whether her captivity has endangered the sentiments and emotions of Ruma.

Women are often sensitive creatures; this is not to say that men are not, often this sensitivity is mistaken for her weakness. So while Sita for many is the epitome of Indian women, often glorified over the ages as the princess and the wife of one of the bravest men in those times. she surprisingly remains just that, a pious and devout wife. reading this book from a fresh perspective, thus adds beauty to the charachter of Sita, even while one remembers the 2008 animated film 'Sita sings the Blues' presented in MTV style where Sita swings her hips to songs performed by jazz singer Annette Hanshaw, even while the presenters take a dig on many of the traditions set in the epic., for example the song where Luv and Kush are supposedly singing the praise of Rama actually go, 'Sing his love/sing his praise/Rama sets his wife ablaze', in what appears a rather comic setting.

Interestingly though, the attempt to humanise Sita is not as much a new trend as one would think so. A comparative study with some ancient literature, especially those that mention the songs of Sita and about her written over the ages in different Indian languages startlingly reveal an identity of Sita that not many might be aware of. Sita's songs in different depictions of the epic in different Indian languages, curiously portray the woman in Sita in shades where she is neither princess not the wife of a demi God, but just as a woman  in different ways. There are expressions of her happiness, fear, pride, etc, but what comes across most predominant here is her sense of loneliness and alienation.

The songs( which are written quite some time back incidentally) often describe the eagerness of a woman to describe her plight as someone who feels isolated from society, in spite of her status as a princess and the wife of a would be king. In Bengali, Chandrabati’s poem, Sita tells Lakshman:

'I have no father, no mother

I was found at the tip of a plough

I don’t know who my parents are

Or who my brother is

Like moss in a stream

I float from shore to shore...'

A Munda tribal song from Chhotanagpur shows us Sita’s inner feelings-

'On the grassy uplands, the

ploughmen found me

They took me to the King’s palace...

I grew up like an edible fruit..'

Edible fruit, is perhaps an apt description that describes the availability of woman who just needs to be plucked to satisfy the hungry urges of some men? One wonders then, that why is it that all these songs/poems choose to sing of Sita as the destitute, in spite of her being a woman relatively well off, born with a silver spoon, a princess and wife to the most eligible bachelor in town- Sita has been described in Bengali, as well as in Maithili at times as “Janam-dukhini” (one who is born to suffer).

Reading these songs, one understands that these are not songs that describe the plight of one woman perhaps. They are a description of what women have felt through the ages. They speak of a woman's fundamental insecurity, her sense of being isolated from the world of men in spite of being mother, wife and sister. The songs describe a woman as a being without an identity, exiled at times even from an understanding of herself.

Curiously enough one cannot but think of Radha in the same context, the consort of Krishna, who is himself supposed to be reflected in the avatar of Rama. In the 'Geet Govind ' poet Joydev writes, ' "Dehi padme ballava mudaram!" (Radha's foot on the head of Krishna!)

The depiction of characters shall perhaps continue in more interesting ways, different from what they have been perceived so far and in this one hope the richness of the Indian epics shall be brought forth in a far more divergent and interesting manner.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

I'd rather be the fish in the pond than the Lilly

I often see this woman during my walks. She sweeps the roads, loves wearing jewelry and smiles a lot..she reminds me of the fish in my Lilly pond..most of the time I don't see those tiny fishes..I see only the beautiful Lilly s that bloom..but it is those little fishes that keep the pond clean and eat the mosquito larve..On some days perhaps its good to be the fish beneath the beautiful Lilly or the lady who cleans, without complains..there is much that needs cleaning all around us perhaps.

On most days I'd rather be the fish in the pond than the Lilly.