Holi Colours on the Horizon

Soon the sky is going to be awash with dusts of pink, red, orange,  green, blue and yellow.


That’s right – India is getting ready to ring in Spring with a riotous festival of colours – Holi. Just like with all other Hindu festivals, this too can be traced back to mythological narratives; the story of Holika, sister to Prahlad – an ardent Vishnu devotee,  who is saved from being burned to death by his piety and in whose stead Holika burns.

Or something like that – I never did have a taste for these gory stories…

But on ground, Holi is celebrated with the full fervour and flavour of any other spring festival across the world –  indeed by some accounts, celebrations even touch Dionysian limits of frenzy. By and large though, Holi is an occasion to ring in the rejuvenation in Nature that accompanies the change of seasons from winter to spring in most parts of the country.

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In north India especially, the respite from foggy mornings is welcome as the sun’s rays grow stronger and life-sap begins to flow and hum. In eastern India, this is the season when red and orange  flowering trees like Krishnachura and Palash set the landscape ablaze and fire up the blood. Known as Dol in Bengali, Holi was transformed into a Spring festival, Basantotsav by Rabindranath Tagore in Shantiniketan  where the young year is still ushered with music, dance and poetry.


Though Holi celebrations in southern india are more muted, nevertheless the occasion is marked by narrating folk songs about the God of Love, Kama and his consort, Rati. In Braj region and western India, Holi is interwoven with the romantic exploits of the butter-thief God, Krishna whose stories still grant a degree of licence to young people across the country to give in to amorous revelry.

The colours of Phagun, the musky fragrance of thandai, lilting thumris in raag Kafi, the dense sweet taste gujiya and the warm embrace of loved ones – Holi is a pure explosion of sensory pleasures.

And I am not complaining !


Mummies of Egypt – an ancient science and a lasting wonder

Of the original Seven Wonders of the World listed by ancient Greek travellers like Antipater of Sidon and Philo of Byzantium, today only the Great Pyramids of Giza remain. Egypt though continues to draw travellers from across the world for a related attraction – mummies.

The Egyptian God Anubis attending the mummy of Sennedjem

Ancient Egyptians believed that earthly death was the beginning of the person’s journey into the next world. If the person was to live in another world, the body had to survive and to this end was invented the science of mummification. This was a process of preservation of the body – all the internal organs of the dead were removed and put in canopic jars. The body was next covered with a mixture of salt known as natron to remove all moisture. Then the body was wrapped in thin strips of linen, decorated with protective amulets and placed in mummy case or coffins.

Because of the highly expensive and lengthy – the mummification of a single body could take up to 70 days – the process was reserved only for the rich and powerful. However , all Egyptians in those days would be buried with certain goods essential to make the supposed journey to the other world – these would include food, household objects like bowls, grooming tools like combs and other trinkets. The wealthy were of course were expected to make the journey into afterlife in style and hence were buried with jewellery, furniture and later with certain symbolic objects like shabtis and scarabs.

A complete set of canopic jars

No matter how elaborate the burial arrangements, the living however could not expect their responsibilities to diminish – they were  supposed to continue to visit the tomb of their deceased relatives with food and prayers –  talk about the dead not giving up !

Gossip, Interrupted

There – I had managed to do it! It had taken some concerted effort on my part, but I had stuck it out, held on to my guns and not given up. In case you wondering what all the self-congratulation is about, I shall give you one word – Gossip. and I had managed to survive an entire party without giving in to its temptation.

 Oil on cradled Panel titled ‘Gossip’ by Eugen Von Blass, 1903

In his best known work, Faerie Queen, Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser, described Slander as a Blatant Beast who wreaks havoc, less by brute physical force and more by sneaky rumour-mongering. Indeed the wounds inflicted by the Beast in the lengthy poem turn out to be almost incurable since they not just physically hurt the victim but destroy him/her psychically.

Seems a bit fanciful today, doesn’t it – after all, everyone indulges in a little harmless gossip now and then. And yet, is it really harmless?

A snide remark here, a loaded suggestion there. Rolled up eyes and a meaningful wink – so many weapons to shoot a reputation down, attack a person behind his/her back. And oh, this kind of arsenal is gender neutral – men use it as much as women to strike.

Is this why people gossip – to bring down others? Is this the only pay-off? This word is actually a loaded term from Eric Berne’s Games People Play where one of the psychological games described is Blemish. In fact, he really classifies it a classic Party game and yesterday, as I was revising Transactional Analysis for my students, I realized with a jolt, how often have I seen it played out before my very eyes – and daresay at times, participated myself!

“ ‘Blemish’ players do not feel comfortable with a new person until they have found his blemish,” says Berne “… It has internal psychological advantage of warding off depression, and the external psychological advantage of avoiding the intimacy which might expose the player’s own blemishes.” (from Games People Play, Eric Berne)


As I pondered on the pay-off, a more contemporary metaphor came to my mind – maybe not high-falutin’ Spensarian allegory but I wondered if gossip does not act as a drug! You start with only this amount to get a high – the Bernian pay-off – and then proceed to increasingly higher doses to attain the same level of pay-off.

But as Berne also points out, a script can be changed – rewritten too if driven by awareness and enough volition. And as I think back on all the exciting conversations I had at the last party with guests other than the gossipers, I realize that I had managed to beat back the Blatant Beast – take that Gossip, I don’t need you anymore !!

And yet I am aware that this requires hard work and will-power –  after all tomorrow is another day, another Party…



PTSD – How to help

On a day that our guest lecturer dealt with the topic of Stress and Trauma Management in a highly impactful way, I came back home and started pondering on PTSD. Standing for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it is a psychological condition that affects those who have suffered a major trauma to the psyche and/or the body.


Actually I knew nothing of the acronym or what it meant the first time I saw it in action – in an Oliver Stone movie, Heaven and Earth where Tommy Lee Jones plays the role of an American soldier who returns from the Vietnam War not only with a wife but also inner demons which eventually drive him to turn the gun on himself.

Courtesy:Warner Bros

If your loved one is suffering from PTSD, here is how can you help:

Know the symptoms

Ideally, the person should be seeing a counsellor as part of his/her recuperation process from the traumatic incident. If that has not happened, watch out for unusual behaviour. Signs that can alert you to a PTSD victim could range from apparently minor ones like sleep disturbances and a tendency to avoid social situations to extreme ones like intense fear, anxiety, helplessness, hypervigilance and even hallucinations. If such symptoms have been continuing for a month at least, it is time to look up a doctor for the right diagnosis.

Get Help

See that he/she continues with treatment which could be therapy, medication or a combination of both.  This is because though symptoms can vary from apparently mild to obviously debilitating, they can quickly take a turn where the affected person can put their own selves or those of their loved ones, in harm’s way.

Really Listen

Be available when the victim wants to talk about the incident or about anything else. Avoid arguing and interrupting him/her but when you are concerned, wait your turn and voice your feelings clearly. Above all, don’t offer advice – rather ask what you can do to help.



Finally, offer your complete support. Invite him/her to accompany you out of doors for some time everyday – like going for a walk, feeding the ducks in a nearby park or some such peaceful activity. Encourage him/her to take small steps to get back to family and friends but never rush a victim to “snap out of it” – recovering from PTSD is a complex process and both the victim as well as his/her loved ones like you need to give it time.



Why the Republic Matters

Today India celebrates its 69th Republic Day.


A Republic is understood, technically, as a nation where supreme power is exercised by elected representatives of its people. In India, the President is elected by Members of Parliament and State Legislatures who in turn are elected by the people. Granted the process is circuitous, but at the end of the day, even the highest executive authority in the land cannot govern just because he/she happens to be born into the right family, gender, caste, religion or class.


If the Republic is the temple of Indian democracy, then its reigning deity is none other than the Constitution. The longest written Constitution in the world, this lays down the fundamental rights as well as the duties of Indian citizens.  The Preamble crystallizes the essence of Constitution, laying down for all time to come in clear, ambiguous terms the core principles of the Republic namely, Justice, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

The real message to take home after all the pomp, splendour and self-congratulation is over.


3 Top Signs You Are With A Frenemy

Among the more colourful portmanteau words to have invaded pop culture in recent times is Frenemy – someone who appears to be a friend but often, insidiously, behaves like an enemy. If a couple of people in your personal circle send out such ambiguous signals and leave you feeling confused, here are top 3 ways to spot a Frenemy.


Back-handed compliments

Do words of apparent praise from this person actually leave a bitter taste in your mouth?  If yes, watch out! Say you just pulled off a negotiation with that difficult client and instead of celebrating a sure-shot fat commission or a corner office coming your way, he/she says something like “Wow, now you can go on more out-of-town office tours in business class” , focussing on the minor negative – longer tour hours – rather than major positives like higher pay or perks.

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Goading you to make bad choices

Yet another sign of a toxic pal is him/her pushing you to make choices that may be couched in trendy words but are clearly bad for you – a lip colour that makes your skin look paler or stripes that make you appear stouter. Once you have fallen for your frenemy’s suggestions,  he/she is sure to smirk and point out that they would not be caught dead wearing THAT.

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Makes you feel bad

So why do people stick with such toxic personalities at all – frenemies usually take pains to be nice in the initial stages of a relationship and by the time you have recognized them for what they really are, they have put you down to their heart’s content and thus got their pay-off before moving on to other unsuspecting souls. Again such personalities are usually hyper-social and appear to be very popular, fashionable which attracts people rather shy or less self-assured.

Unfortunately the high of being befriended by someone apparently popular is a very brief one as sooner than later, their words and attitudes leave you feeling more miserable and introverted than before.

So wise up to that cool girl/dude feeding off your insecurities and before he/she can hurt you again bid your frenemy goodbye!


A Walk through Calcutta History

1724 – Calcutta gets its first European Church, built by the Armenians.

The Armenian Church Spire

So, what else is happening across the world in early 1700s ?

In mainland Europe, the War of Spanish Succession pits the Grand Alliance of newly united England and Scotland, the Dutch Republic and Austria against France, the kingdoms of Naples, Sicily and supporters of Philip in Spain.

North America is still a stage of colonial struggles among the British, French and Spanish though the colonialists are facing far more defiance in the southern continent from its original inhabitants and slave communities like Maroons.

St. Andrews Church at a busy Calcutta crossing

Europeans have arrived in Africa in search for trade opportunities and found slaves to be the most lucrative prospect; Australia is still being “discovered” by European explorers while the Qin empire  around this time has made China the biggest economy in the world. In the Indian subcontinent, the Mughal empire is past its prime, 1707 being the year of demise of its last powerful ruler, Aurangzeb.

Fourteen years later Calcutta already has a thriving Armenian community who have the resources to build their first church. As more European traders flock to this hub of trade and commerce at the mouth of the Ganges in eastern India, the city opens out its arms to communities and people from across the world.

The Portuguese Church in Mediterranean colours

And this is what the walk, was all about. Over the course of three and half hours lit by a weak winter Calcutta sun, we explored old churches, temples and synagogues practically hidden by shops and stalls on busy streets but all of them rich repositories of a diverse, multi-cultural ethos that Calcutta is still proud of today.

Gorgeous interiors of the Maghen David Synagogue

Along with the Armenian Church on (ahem !)Armenian Street, we looked up St Andrews Church in Dalhousie Square, the Portuguese Church in the Bara Bazar, the Beth-el Synagogue on Pollock Street, the newly renovated   Maghen David Synagogue on what else !, Synagogue Street, the Saifee Masjid in Chitpur and the remains of the older Fire Temple on Ezra Street. The walk was rounded off with the visit to the Chinese Sea Ip Church on Terita Bazar as well as the Burmese Temple next to Central Avenue.

intricately carved wooden panel at the Sea Ip Church

Cheekily titled, The Walk of the Unfaithful, the tour was conducted by let us go; well-known blogger and guide Rangan Dutta regaled us with facts, legal tangles and trivia about all these heritage structures and the colourful past that they symbolize.

Calcutta – so proud of you! Can’t wait to go back and sign up for another walk…