A Prayer for India…

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On the occasion of the 70th Anniversary of India’s freedom from British colonial government – celebrated as Independence Day in the country – no other poem feels more relevant today, than this one from Rabindranath Tagore’s Nobel Prize winning anthology, Gitanjali:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

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A Beginning…

Amidst the misty environs of the Nilgiris, few pursuits can be more fulfilling than reading. With a book in hand and a steaming cup of Darjeeling tea, one could easily get lost in winding, twisting lanes of Imagination or get transported to faraway times and places.

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And so, a long-held dream was given shape when our very own book club met for the first time. It included members from fields as diverse as pure sciences, management and literature. We began talking about the kind of books we read and subjects that interest us.  What a myriad colours went up to make the palette – travel, fiction, poetry, philosophy, biography and so much more. We discussed the perplexing plot of The Time Traveller’s Wife which is nevertheless made relatable by its charming comedy. Also up for discussion was the philosophy of spiritual leader J Krishnamurti and the challenges involved in its comprehension. Far more engaging was the digression to Rishi Valley School, based on Krishnamurti’s vision of education and its relevance to present-day educational system. Scattered mention of Oprah Winfrey’s new biography as well as Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet added variety to our discussions.

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Eventually we got down to the business of choosing a book and headed for the library’s biography section. After a good deal of rifling through shelves and badgering the assistant librarian about book titles, we decided to go with four different biographies of the first woman Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi. With her being at the helm of several controversial and decisive moments of the country’s history, the texts promise to be interesting!

Of Paddy and a Silly Bro-in-law!

So many of these posts are about the rains – not consciously though!

Monsoons are a big part of India’s natural, cultural and emotional calendar, like I mentioned in one of my previous posts. And it is that time of the year now!

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Besides, presently living in the Nilgiris, I love these gentle drizzles – just enough to moisten the air and the earth but with none of the ferocity or the resultant muck typically of heavy rains on the plains.

As I was listening to old Bangla songs on rains, I came across a few lines which in turn took me back to folk rhymes of my childhood. These would be traditionally short stanzas – lively and colloquial. One goes thus:

“Aaye brishti jhenpe,

dhaan debo mepe,

dhaaner bhetor poka,

Jamai-babu boka!”

The above may be loosely translated as:

“O Rains, come down hard

so that we can plant paddy

but insects have spoiled the grains

and guess what – brother-in-law is a duffer!”

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I completely understand the befuddlement of readers unfamiliar with Bangla language or folk culture. What on earth does paddy have to do with one’s bro-in-law!

Maybe because ‘poka’ (insects) and ‘boka’ (silly) rhyme well!

Seriously though, all I can think of, is that the arrival of monsoons ushers in relief and merriment among the village women folk and thus, in spirit of the season, a brother-in-law ends up as a convenient object of ridicule. Indeed the relation between a shaalika and jamai-babu – a young girl and her elder sister’s husband – is traditionally a fun bond involving gentle teasing and at times mild flirtation too!

More on Bangla folk rhymes next time…

Monsoon Musings

With the monsoon clouds gradually spreading their welcome shadows over the length and breadth of India, I felt like searching for poems which would make apt reading as it gently drizzled outside.

And while I browsed through a few classic verses on rains, it occurred to me how different cultures feel about this natural phenomenon. For the European landscape, where rains usually intensify the cold and bleak weather conditions, it can mean misery and suffering while in a country like India where the fields and its people wilt under the blazing summer, the arrival of the rain-bearing monsoon winds – ‘from the Arabic word ‘mausim’, meaning seasonal – spells relief and prosperity.

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Here is a poem by renowned American poet Emily Dickinson, which depicts the transformative beauty of the rains – its arrival is celebrated almost as a festival, something that Indian folk culture can relate to !

Summer Shower

A drop fell on the apple tree,
Another on the roof;
A half a dozen kissed the eaves,
And made the gables laugh.

A few went out to help the brook,
That went to help the sea.
Myself conjectured, Were they pearls,
What necklaces could be!

The dust replaced in hoisted roads,
The birds jocoser sung;
The sunshine threw his hat away,
The orchards spangles hung.

The breezes brought dejected lutes,
And bathed them in the glee;
The East put out a single flag,
And signed the fete away.

-Emily Dickinson

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