Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Understanding of a Sadhu

Jorge Luis Borges wrote in 'The library of Babel', "Once I am dead, there will be no lack of pious hands to throw me over the railing; my grave will be the fathomless air; my body will sink endlessly and decay and dissolve in the wind generated by the fall, which is infinite.."

The lines remind me of the story of a Sadhu who lived deep in the heart of Bengal. He was a master in the of sexo-yogic practices, and had done much for the people of his region, including helping them with medicines, some amount of education, etc. People from far off lands came to seem him, to partake of his knowledge, to become his disciples  all of whom he received with great affection and taught to the best of his abilities. But he was not sell able, nor was he prone to changes that are sometimes necessitated in modern life. He died at a ripe old age, in a road accident. After his death, the villagers, where he had built his ashram descended  in hordes, they tore and ravaged whatever they could and took away the little that he had.

His years of service to the village in different forms, his teachings everything came to naught. Why they chose to concentrate only on what was tangible and leave out that which was intangible and far more precious in form of his teachings, is something that the Sadhu nor this poet can comprehend or understand.

If ancient teachings and traditions are to be believed, the ear of a person is the Yoni( the female sexual organ)  and the tongue is the Lingam( the male sexual organ) and such is one's relation with one's Guru..inseparable and completely natural. In order to find a Guru, one must first be ready himself..just like in order to understand poetry and mastery of the sounds and the words, one must ready is in this readying that half the journey is complete.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Being a Magician for a day

I was in a departmental store this evening, a little while ago. While I browsed the different racks, I saw a small family of mother, father and son hovering close by. From what I could guess it was perhaps their first visit to a departmental store. The boy about 8 years, was completely starry eyed and it was clear that the parents wanted to indulge him.

The entire family were without slippers( you probably get the picture..describing the lack of anything else seems a bit distasteful)..We wandered around almost together. At the end of about half an hour, when I stood in the billing counter, the family stood behind me. I saw that the boy had selected few biscuit packets, a pack of gems, a bottle of Jam, a packet of wafers and some other small knick knacks. He stood at the counter, wide eyed..taking everything in like someone who has suddenly discovered colours in a black and white world.

After I paid the bill I stood to the side and noticed that their bill was about Rs 200. I took the man in the counter aside for a minute while the family was looking elsewhere and asked if I could make their payment. I asked him to tell the boy that he was a chosen specific number lucky customer( a ritual that some stores follow) and that his shopping was free. My aim was not to make him or his parents feel obliged, but to keep alive the magic, of what probably was a lovely evening for them.

As soon as the counter person announced this to the family, the boy did a little jump in the air and the parents beamed at him happily. Some things in life are extremely satisfying. Their simple smiles I shall remember for long.

* Please note that this post is in no way meant to highlight that I have done some extraordinary work, because that is not the purpose of putting it down here. My contribution if any, to such instances is negligible to what perhaps needs to be done. But there are plenty of young people on my list, to whom I wanted to say through this, that play a magician some day and make someone happy..its very easy actually..and very satisfying..sometimes it costs lesser than a movie ticket!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

-Letters from Kolkata - Vijaya Dashami

On Dashami, a day when supposedly good triumphs over evil..I woke up to a near by pandal mike blaring a quiz session. Their question, "Who is R Bhadra, what is their bhife and mathat-in-law's name. Who can tell I will be obliged, hands up" ( Welcome to Bengal)

Dashami, or Bijaya Dashami as it is known in many places, has a unique importance as far as mythological and...religious connotation goes. Not only is it symbollyic represantation of triumph of good over bad, but also it brings ot end the spactacle that is Durga Puja. The immersion in itself is poignant, espcially when most Bengalis treat Durga as the daughter of the house..letting go of her is painful.

Dashami is made colurful and vibrant with the Sindur Khela amongst married women of Bengal, who smear each other with vermilion, while wishing the Godess goodbye, in the hope of seeing her again next year. It is a strange mix of sentiments full of sadness and happiness.

On this day, the preparations, expectations that so many people have had for so many days comes to an end when the Godess is immersed in water.

Somewhere to hope, to another year and more importantly to the strength in faith and all that is beautiful and pure...Happy Bijaya Dashami.       -To Gowri-

Durga walks a busy road,

and pauses poignant at a crossing-

Thousands dance around her to the tune of Dhak

She turns her head at the madness,

A man sitting yonder,

has red childlike horns of mahishashur,

Some beard hides some poverty-

eyes hide an understanding of incoming death.

...She smiles then, and laughs out loud..

her voice somehow drowned in the joyous mayhem that is life-

The man with horns, folds his mat,

a day and life perhaps over.

Durga in her similing finery,

takes her final plunge,

there is water everywhere-

in some one's face and someone's eyes..

Some from the purge

and some from life.

© Maitreyee B Chowdhury

Monday, October 22, 2012

Letters from Kolkata

Letters from Kolkata

On the morning of the 15 th I woke up early in the morning and like millions of Bengalis living outside Bengal, I hummed along with the rendition of Mahishahur Mardini, while I packed my suitcase for a flight to Kolkata.

I am aware of the chaos, the dust, the pollution that would recieve me when I land in Kolkata...but the desicion for me was already made by nostalgia that...reaches out to every pore of me as every other legitimate Bengali's or those who have stayed in Calcutta, for even a small spell of time.

Bangalore airport is no different from any other airport in the world, except for the fact that you get to see little sparrows chirping and flying in and out of the airport inner sanctum is somehow pleasntly surprised to see these little creatures come to fly with us. The airport resembled a mini Calcutta, with Benaglis of every size and shape catching every flight back home. While on the flight, a child about 5 years old sat behind me and suddenly asked a lady seated next to her, " Do you stay in Behala or Alipore?" The lady at the reciving end of the question laughed and asked, " Kano bolo toh?" ( why do you ask that?) the little one immidiately pipped, " My grandmother stays in Behala and uncle in Alipore"..Homecoming was never sweeter!

In the distance since yesterday and today, I saw Durga who had been given an artist's expression...Her eyes vivid, with anger, mercy and love..In some places Ganesha and saraswati are still busy wearing their clothes.

I took a rickshaw ride first thing after I landed. I was asked, with a familiar smile, " Didi bhalo achen?" As we exchange unnecessary and regular exchanges, a group of local addabajas raise their hand in salute..over numerous cups of Cha.

The roads are closed in many places, there is irritation on people's faces and yet every time a dhak sounds from somewhere, everyone stops to listen...I am in South Kolkata, it is evening...thousands of lights come up as if from no gloworms on the mountains..a Reliance footprint, I spy a Dhaki( drummer) pacing the front of the shop and playing his drums in totaly ecstacy..some children join him, while their parents buy inside...the man is excited and starts a little dance to match the children..I smile

Kolkata, you look like a resplendent bride tonight!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

People watching and discovering love in coffee shops

Yesterday while on my evening walk, I entered a small coffee shop. A couple, easily in their 70 s sat in the table next to me. I was idling time as I watched them. The lady pointed at an item in the menu, the husband who was frail and shaky immediately got up and bought it for her..over the next 5 minutes the lady very slowly ate from that bowl, while her husband watched her between she offered him spoon fulls which he took smilingly..suddenly the lady indicated that she wanted water, the gentleman almost ran to fetch her some water..after making her drink from the glass..he again walked around and fetched her some tissues..all as if a moment's delay would make it difficult for her..

There are certain people watching whom you feel that the world is all right after all.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The religion of famine

 I am watching ‘Ashani Sanket’( Distant Thunder), a film by Satyajit Ray. The scene shows Shoumitra Chatterjee in the role of a village priest performing a puja in a village to which he is new. The village has had an outbreak of Cholera in an epidemic like proportion, in the wake of famine. The villagers are scared and call upon the holy man to solve their problems. Once the Puja is done and the priest takes home a bag of goodies and earned the respect of the entire village, as a casual after thought he mentions to the villagers that no one must drink from the common village pond or touch any dead body of animal or man, while also being very careful about their hygiene.

While one cannot but smile in retrospect at Satyajit Ray’s clever portrayal of religion playing health keeper to the villagers and hoodwinking them into thinking that it is worship that makes or breaks and epidemic, one wonders if things have changed at all. It also reminds one of the bizarre decision, of the drought hit Karnataka Government which decided to spend a huge amount of Rupees, 17 crores on different rituals around the state in order to appease the rain Gods!

But then nature is also the greatest equalizer. The same Brahmin who does not touch a lower caste or visit a lower caste’s home is brought down to his/her place by the wrath of drought and hunger. The Bengal famine of 1942, is of course a famine made by bad governance and bad policies, a man made famine. When rumors spread like wild fire, about Burma being taken over by the Japanese and burning of stock so as to inconvenience the Japanese in case they took over India. In every age it is the poorest who die, while the buck is passed from one to the other.

It’s interesting to note that religion in our country has been used by the rich and the powerful too often make fools of the poor and bad governance often blamed on the lack of a proper puja. Worship during the drought is of course not new to the country. In many parts of India, whenever there is drought or famine the services of the Gods have been called upon; when humans think that their inabilities to fend themselves will be taken care of by the Gods. For example, Gowr Puja, which is done in many parts of Maharashtra, where the deity is offered Betel leaves, nuts and Kum Kum, religion often dominates the minds of the hapless villagers when drought is at hand. But one would have thought that it was the duty of the educated lot, those in the governance to teach people that while religion might have its place in society, adequate measures must be taken to stop people from starvation or from leaving their lands, as well as other famine and drought related circumstances.  

In many villages even today, the poor man who stares at the skies for that drop of rain would still not understand that there was an option of cloud seeding and that a difference could have been made if those in the reckoning had realized their duties. Till education and water comes to their land and doorstep, their faith shall still lie in Pujas which make a farce of the, could have been s in term s of public money better utilized.
And yet even as I write this Karnataka receives rain every other day, after an unusual dry spell throughout the Monsoon period..Gods must be crazy?

(Image courtesy Google )

Monday, October 1, 2012

From a stranger with 'Love'

It was 6 in the morning..I was at Ganga ghat. My toes tucked in, being kissed by a moody Ganga once in a chin placed on my knees as I watched little boats idling as if they had no better work to do. When I looked around me, to my right I saw a gentleman, a tourist probably, head bent in deep concentration sketching..He looked up only once in a while to stare around him and then got back to his work. After a while he noticed me, trying to swing myself and delve into the mysteries of the muddy water..our eyes met and we exchanged a smile..after sometime he walked up and came over to where I sat and asked me, " May I sit here a minute?" When I nodded in approval, he sat nearby..surprisingly he didn't speak anything and we sat silently watching the river. We had exchanged no conversation, he was a white man in his mid thirties, is all I could gauge. I turned my head after a while to look at what he was sketching. To my surprise he had a sheaf of 2-3 pencil sketches. Some of the river and the boatmen, some of the cows walking around the lanes, some of the strange sadhus he had encountered another of the Ganga aarati..and they were beautiful. I looked at him then and asked, "Are you an artist?" He smiled. I pointed at his sketches and said that they were beautiful. 

He had just finished the sketch he was doing, a small temple on a wall, where a man was worshiping while a cow rubbed its head lovingly on the same was so Benaras, I couldn't help but smile. He looked up from the paper then and stretched his hand with the sketches, "You take them". I was extremely surprised and embarrassed at the gesture and thanked him and said that I could not take something he had made so lovingly and painstakingly.

He looked at me then and he said, " If there is one thing I have learnt in Benaras, it is that what is truly yours, is never separated from you. My art is within me, what I am giving you comes off the land, I would be happy to give back to it, in you"

Throughout my journey in life, unknown strangers have been immensely kind and in them one finds a strange friendship that transcends all borders, many such incidents have remained with me...I brought the sketches back home and plan to use them in a book that I plan to write someday- 'From a stranger with love'

(Text © Maitreyee Bhattacharjee Chowdhury)