Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Ms Uninterrupted

Outlook correspondent Seema Sirohi writes on the large number of Indian women heading diplomatic missions abroad. New York, Germany, China and Ghana to name a few.

Women in the Indian Foreign Service have decidedly broken through the glass door of paternalism and protection, shattering one of the last remaining outposts of male exclusivity to become India's ambassadors in capitals so far considered too important, too tough or too dangerous for them. From Beijing to Berlin, from Beirut to Doha, women are flying the Indian flag, facing challenges of war and staring down rivals at the negotiating table. The sari no longer means having to say sorry to difficult assignments.

Women are heading 26 Indian missions and consulates around the world—an impressively large number that includes the hitherto forbidden Arab world where even the West rarely sends women diplomats. Today, Nengcha Lhouvum is India's ambassador to Lebanon where she has seen bombs explode from her balcony (see Bullets In Beirut). Meera Shankar represents India in Germany, and is seen as a frontrunner for the position of India's next permanent representative at the UN in New York. In China, it's Nirupama Rao who reads the intricate tea leaves for India, managing the often tense relationship between two Asian giants. Deepa Gopalan Wadhwa is getting ready to be the first woman envoy to Qatar where most of her counterparts will be in dark suits or the white robes worn by Arab men. She hopes to reach a part of Arab society that other ambassadors can't access—women, who are increasingly a voice in this more open among Arab countries.

To Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi's citadel, India has sent Manimekalai Murugesan, while the Indian High Commission in Australia is headed by Sujatha Singh. No territory seems forbidden or forbidding anymore. Important consulates from New York, where Neelam Deo is the consul general, to Shanghai, where Riva Ganguly Das is preparing to make her mark, are all headed by women. They're telling and living the story of India, procuring oil and defence deals, and hobnobbing with presidents and prime ministers around the world. And why not? As Nirupama Rao said, "It marks a very healthy stage in the evolution of the foreign service. It shows confidence in women who are being entrusted with serious responsibilities."

Ruchi Ghanashyam, India's high commissioner to Ghana, can vouch for that. Considered extremely bright, she was the first woman officer to be posted to Islamabad at a time when harassment of Indian diplomats was routine and life wasn't just wine receptions and picking on delicate hors d'oeuvre. Ghanashyam also served in Nepal and India's mission in New York. She hasn't experienced any gender bias and says she has been treated as a professional all along—a sentiment voiced by many occupying the upper layers today. India appointed Chokila Iyer its first woman foreign secretary in 2001, a move seen by many as tokenism but nonetheless, it was a first.

But it wasn't always like that. Rewind just thirty years when women faced unapologetic prejudice in those cavernous corridors of South Block where they walk with confidence these days, their saris rustling and mobiles ringing. There was a time when IFS women had to give a written undertaking that they would resign if they married. The blatantly unfair rules were changed thanks to India's first woman IFS officer, C.B. Muthamma, who moved the Supreme Court in 1979 to protest the rampant gender bias and won.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


A Turkish soap opera is being enjoyed in Gaza and throughout the Middle East.

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) -- Every evening for the past four months, a tall young man with soulful blue eyes has been stealing hearts across the Middle East, from the refugee camps of the Gaza Strip to the gated mansions of Riyadh.

But it's not just the striking good looks of Mohannad, hero of the hugely popular Turkish TV soap "Noor," that appeal to female viewers. He's romantic, attentive to his wife, Noor, supportive of her independence and ambitions as a fashion designer - in short, a rare gem for women in conservative, male-dominated surroundings.

"Noor" delivers an idealized portrayal of modern married life as equal partnership - clashing with the norms of traditional Middle Eastern societies where elders often have the final word on whom a woman should marry and many are still confined to the role of wife and mother.

Some Muslim preachers in the West Bank and Saudi Arabia have taken notice, saying the show is un-Islamic and urging the faithful to change channels. But all the same, the show may be planting seeds of change.

"I told my husband, `learn from him (Mohannad) how he treats her, how he loves her, how he cares about her," said Heba Hamdan, 24, a housewife visiting the West Bank from Amman, Jordan. Married straight out of college, she said the show inspired her to go out and look for a job.

"Noor" seems particularly effective in changing attitudes because it offers new content in a familiar setting: Turkey is a Muslim country, inviting stronger viewer identification than Western TV imports. The characters in "Noor" observe the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and Mohannad and Noor were married in a match arranged by his grandfather.

But it also upholds secular liberties: Protagonists have a drink with dinner and sex outside marriage. Mohannad, while faithful to Noor, had a child with a former girlfriend, and a cousin underwent an abortion.

The nightly soap opera "shows that there are Muslims who live differently," said Islah Jad, a professor of women's studies at the West Bank's Bir Zeit University.

The show's Turkish producer, Kemal Uzun, added: "We are a little more open, not as conservative as some of these countries, and I think this might have some appeal for the audience."

Even though some of the racier scenes are sanitized for Arab consumption, clerics have been sermonizing against "Noor." "This series collides with our Islamic religion, values and traditions," warned Hamed Bitawi, a lawmaker of the Islamic militant Hamas and preacher in the West Bank city of Nablus.

But the purists seem powerless to halt the "Noor" craze.

In Saudi Arabia, the only country with ratings, about three to four million people watch daily, out of a population of nearly 28 million, according to MBC, the Saudi-owned satellite channel that airs the show dubbed into Arabic for Middle East audiences.

In the West Bank and Gaza, streets are deserted during show time and socializing is timed around it. In Riyadh, the Saudi capital, and in Hebron, the West Bank's most conservative city, maternity wards report a rise in babies named Noor and Mohannad. A West Bank poster vendor has ditched Yasser Arafat and Saddam Hussein for Noor and Mohannad.

Jaro's Clothing Store in Gaza City is doing brisk business in copies of blouses seen on the show, including a sleeveless metallic number adapted to Gaza standards by being worn over a long-sleeved leotard.

Producer Uzun said the Istanbul villa on the Bosporus, fictional home of Mohannad's upper-class clan, has been rented by tour operators and turned into a temporary museum for Arab visitors.

A recent cartoon in the Saudi paper Al-Riyadh showed a plain-looking man marching into a plastic surgeon's office with a picture of Mohannad with his designer stubble. (Kivanc Tatlitug, who plays Mohannad, is an ex-basketball player who won the 2002 "Best Model of the World" award.)

In the West Bank city of Nablus, civil servant Mohammed Daraghmeh said he had MBC blocked at home so his kids couldn't watch, but the family vowed to watch it at an uncle's house and he backed down.

In Hamas-ruled Gaza, keeping up with "Noor" is a challenge.

Power goes out frequently because of a yearlong blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt after the violent Hamas takeover. When a blackout disrupts viewing, many set their alarms to catch the pre-dawn repeat.

In the Shati refugee camp, several teenage girls huddled around an old TV set recently, trying to follow the action despite overflights by pilotless Israeli aircraft that can scramble reception.

Ala Hamami, 17, wearing a black robe and head scarf, said she looks up to Noor because she is independent.

"This series gives strength to women in the future," said Hamami, although she was set on a very traditional path - she had just gotten engaged in an arranged match.

The cultural divide between modern Turkey and traditional Gaza became apparent in a scene where Mohannad and Noor, played by Songul Oden, both end up hospitalized. The girls giggled and Hamami quickly changed channels when Mohannad entered his wife's room and lay beside her to comfort her. The display of physical contact clearly made her uncomfortable.

Whether the "Noor" effect will be lasting is not known. The season finale falls Aug. 30, the day before Ramadan begins and religious fervor intensifies. Next up on MBC will be "Bab al-Hara," a Ramadan favorite that looks nostalgically at traditional Arab life.

Bomb Blasts in Jaipur, Bangalore and Ahmedabad

NYT reports the bomb blasts that are putting India on the edge. How fearful must it be, when the bombs go off at a trauma center and the emergency room, that is treating patients that have just been injured by bomb blasts. NDTV had a good analysis on WE The People and everyone seemed grateful and thankful that we did not have to see Godhra situation occurring again.

And, in the most recent attack, 17 back-to-back explosions struck shoppers and strollers on Saturday evening in Ahmedabad in western India, and then two blasts hit the very hospitals where the wounded and their relatives rushed for help, killing 49 people and wounding more than 200.

The targets seem to have nothing in common except that they are ordinary places that are easy to strike. In a country long familiar with sharply focused violence — whether sectarian or fueled by insurgencies in Kashmir in the 1990s — the impersonal nature of the latest violence is new and deeply unsettling.

Officials have said the attacks are attempts to provoke violence between Hindus and Muslims that have not succeeded so far. Yet virtually none of the attacks have resulted in convictions; a suspect in the Varanasi bombings was shot and killed by the police.

“This is different, because for the first time it’s everyday, it’s utterly anonymous, it’s excessive,” said Shiv Vishvanathan, a professor of anthropology in Ahmedabad. “The familiar becomes unfamiliar,” he said. “The apple seller you meet might be carrying a bomb. It creates suspicion. It’s a perfect way to destabilize society.”

Reminders of the danger are everywhere. There are metal detectors at the gates of multiplex movie theaters and commuter trains, and even at the threshold of prominent temples and mosques. Yet they have had no bearing on the far greater number of easier, more densely crowded targets.

India’s congested cities offer rich opportunities. A small bundle of explosives, hidden as they have been in lunch boxes, pressure cookers and on the backs of bicycles, can cause grievous damage. It is also why the attackers have so successfully eluded punishment.

A report last year by the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington concluded that from January 2004 to March 2007, the death toll from terrorist attacks in India was 3,674, second only to that in Iraq during the same period.

Ahmedabad, home to 3.5 million people and Gujarat’s commercial center, is no stranger to violence. In 2002, a train fire that killed several dozen Hindus led to the killing of 1,000 Muslims over several days, one of the worst outbreaks of religious violence in India’s history.

An obscure group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen warned Saturday that an attack was about to take place “in revenge of Gujarat,” plainly referring to the 2002 killings. The statement was sent in an e-mail message, written in English, to television stations just before the first blasts.

H. P. Singh, the city’s joint police commissioner, said Sunday that some of the explosives had been strapped to bicycles in crowded streets and markets. Later in the evening, a pair of car bombs went off in front of two city hospitals. At one of them, Civil Hospital, the dead included husband-and-wife doctors and two sanitation workers.

The police said two additional bombs had been found and defused, in Ahmedabad and nearby Gandhinagar, Gujarat’s capital. On Sunday afternoon, the police found two abandoned cars in Surat, an industrial city in Gujarat, one stuffed with bomb-making chemicals and detonators, the other with live bombs. The police said they were still tracing the cars’ ownership.

On Friday, there was a series of similar low-intensity blasts in southern Bangalore, one of which killed a woman standing at a bus stop. Two months ago in Jaipur, synchronized blasts on bicycles killed 56 people; the Indian Mujahedeen sent an e-mail message claiming credit for those attacks.

On Sunday, a police official, P. P. Pandey, said “a single mind” was suspected to be behind the three latest attacks. The police said they had detained people for questioning; The Associated Press reported 30 were in custody. Officials offered no further details about who was involved in the group or a possible motivation behind the bombings.

The morning after the Ahmedabad blasts, residents of this sprawling Indian capital pointed out that while it was virtually impossible to take precautions against terrorist attacks, they had grown increasingly vigilant of the strangers around them.

Hari Om Suri, 52, stood outside a popular seafood restaurant at the Defense Colony Market, scanning the parking lot for anything that looked suspicious.

Mohan and Helen Nanjundan ordered a chicken sizzler for lunch at Moet’s, a popular restaurant, and warily eyed the bicycles parked outside. Bicycles, a poor man’s transport here, are common. “Every few months, there is another one in another city,” said Mr. Nanjundan, 52. “Sometimes we tell ourselves to stay away from dangerous places, but it’s hard to say where that is.”

“I’ve never looked at a bicycle before,” said Ms. Nanjundan, 56.

Puneet Gupta, 23, said he was trying to avoid crowded markets, but his girlfriend, Jyotsna Malhotra, 21, said she was determined not to let it get in the way of her fun. “We are not sure what is going to happen tomorrow,” she said. “Better to live today, shop, get him to spend some money on me.”

Last August, after a pair of synchronized bombs tore through an amusement park and a fast-food restaurant in Hyderabad, killing at least 40 people, an Indian newspaper called the violence “a war on the way we live.”

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Shashi Deshpande

The Hindu literary section has a wonderful interview with Indian author Shashi Deshpande, about her new novel, Country of Deceit.

With eight novels, six collections of short stories, four children’s books, essays and translations from Kannada and Marathi into English, you are one of the few Indian writers in English with a corpus of work, and one who has successfully handled different forms. You have explored conventional feminist themes, as in your Sahitya Akademi Award winning novel That Long Silence as well as broader human concerns through your male protagonists, such as Gopal in A Matter of Time and Baba in Moving On. Tell us something about your forthcoming novel. Where does it stand in the context of your work and your concerns?

Each new novel comes as a surprise — one never knows what’s coming and where it’s coming from. This novel, In the Country of Deceit, has been a surprise for two other reasons. One is the character who brought it into being. Generally, once a novel is done, the characters withdraw gracefully, making room for other people. But Devayani, a character in an early novel Come Up and Be Dead, lingered. I ignored her, but she was quietly persistent. Five novels and 20 years later, after completing Moving On, I realised that the next novel would be Devayani’s story. This, however, is not a sequel.

The second surprise to me was that this is a love story.

And the title is In the Country of Deceit?

Yes. Seems odd, doesn’t it? But when you think of what love does to people and the things love makes them do… My novel explores the slippery, treacherous terrain that love takes people into. Actually, except for one or two early attempts, I had never written a love story, in the sense in which these words are usually used. It amuses me that I had to get to this age to be able to write one. Once I began, I realised the difficulties of writing about love. It’s so easy to slip into clichéd language, clichéd situations, to become banal and maudlin. But the truth is that love is a strong emotion; there is nothing banal or clichéd about it. My gold standard for a love story is Wuthering Heights — the scene where Heathcliff waits outside all night while Catherine is dying is so amazingly powerful.

Some time during the writing of this novel, I realised that I have been exploring the idea of love in all my novels. Different kinds of love, the different faces of love. I also find myself increasingly interested in the idea of goodness in human beings. The emphasis today, perhaps because of the times, is on violence, on evil. Goodness, when it is written about, is made to seem like weakness. In fact, we shy away from the very word. We speak of values instead. Nevertheless, goodness is real, it exists — not only in people like Bapu or Mother Teresa, but in ordinary people. It is these people who make life worth living. So, whether it is Joe in Small Remedies, Kalyani in A Matter of Time, Akka in The Binding Vine, or Gayatri in Moving On, they make life possible for others.

A ‘writerly’ writer, I believe, pursues the same or similar themes in different guises, often without being aware of it. Your work has been strong on ‘literary’ qualities — the imagination, the story fused with its telling, with the structure, with deeply drawn characters. What do you basically seek to do in your novels? While the ‘imagination’ is important, how do you incorporate ‘fact’ into your fiction? How much of ‘research’ do you do?

To me, a novel is basically a story. About people. So when I write a novel, I write about humans and human relationships. Of their struggle to make sense of life, to understand their place in the scheme of things. At the same time, since people don’t live in a vacuum, I need to know the details of their lives: where they live, the culture, language, religion of the society they live in and so on. And there’s their work, their professions. I had to understand something of Hindustani music to write about Savitribai, I had to read up on anatomy to write about Jiji’s father, the Professor of Anatomy. Before I begin writing, I must have all this information, even though when I write I will use only those facts which are relevant to the story. Of course, our lives are affected by events around us, but the important thing to a novelist is how characters react to events, not the event itself. How people’s lives change because of happenings, not the happening itself. And that is how events and history enter the novel, through people’s lives, through their perceptions. I consider the demands of the story to be the novelist’s first concern. Research (a word I rather dislike in connection with a novel) is necessary in the interests of accuracy, but the facts have to be invisible, submerged. Even in a historical novel, where research is so important, a skilful author will weave facts into the story, into the lives of the characters and not make them obtrusive.

But there’s no denying that the novels that tackle grand themes, that span continents and centuries, or have major events at their centre are considered big. For instance, one would automatically assume that In the Country of Deceit signals to a larger entity…

I don’t think of it as big or small. I know that love is a basic and universal human emotion. So is the pain that comes on betrayal. I find it a problem that we divide novels into big and small (or major and minor) depending on the theme of the novel, the issues, or its ideological value. (Though, very strangely, if the ideology is feminism, there is a kind of devaluation!) Indian Writing in English (IWE) is more concerned with issues than ideologies, and therefore novels which deal with “big” issues, like terrorism, fundamentalism and national and international events, become major novels; so too those that span, as you say, continents and centuries. For some reason, IWE thinks that to be important, novels have to be “narratives of the nation”. But aren’t all stories of human lives part of this narrative?

And, as a reader, I am not looking out for a significant novel; I’m looking for a good novel. I did not think that John Updike’s Terrorist or Ian McEwan’s Saturday, (which is about 9/11), were good novels. We read a novel not because it increases our knowledge, but because it illuminates our own lives; human stories echo one another across time and space. And if large issues and themes were to make novels significant, what about novels like Emma, Howard’s End, or Wuthering Heights, almost perfect novels in my opinion? It is tempting to see the big picture as the real one, but one can get as much, if not more, from a micro picture. In fact, I very defiantly used Erica Jong’s words about all stories being stories of families as the epigraph to Moving On.

IWE has become an exciting place — other than big and small books, there are so may new writers experimenting with different forms — the graphic novel, variations of historical fiction, fantasy, chick lit … Is it time to celebrate the ‘richness’ of IWE? Can we claim that IWE has come of age?

Certainly there has been much vigour and confidence, as well as good writing in IWE in the last few years. But there’s no room for complacence. It has to go a long way before we can call it “rich”. We need many more books in all genres — romance, historical fiction, crime novels, children’s books, drama, poetry and so on. While non-fiction is doing well, short stories are dwindling, poetry remains invisible except to poets and poetry lovers, crime fiction is still not making its presence felt and we don’t have enough books for children of all ages. And have you noticed the lack of diversity in the voices? We’re all so politically correct. And of course, there’s the never-ending problem of letting Western publishers decide which are the books that matter, since the books they publish inevitably get more noticed. Personally, I also consider the lack of what I call good middle-of-the-road writing a huge lacuna. There are not enough readable books, something between the literary novel and pulp fiction. Not cordon bleu cuisine, not junk food, just everyday food that keeps you going. As a child, writers like Daphne du Maurier, A.J. Cronin, Somerset Maugham, Agatha Christie — and many others who wrote good books, if not high literary fiction. — kept me hooked to reading.

Yes, it is not enough to breed ambitious writers. There has to be a healthy, vibrant literary environment to sustain them — libraries, book clubs, through which readers and writers can interact, responsive university departments, a culture of literary criticism.

No argument about this! Circulating libraries have always been important in popularising novels, right from Jane Austen’s time. I too did all my reading through library books. There were no bookshops, and who had the money to buy books anyway? I was fascinated to read that in Victorian times, Mudie’s, the circulating library, was able to influence the shape of the novel. The three volume form came because it was more profitable for Mudie’s to circulate one novel among three readers. And since most subscribers belonged to the middle class, the novels were also expected to be close to their sensibilities. The point was that that the novel was mostly read through these libraries which made it possible for Mudie’s to subsidise publishers. Sadly we have few book libraries in India now.

Books must also be written about. Writing and criticism go hand in hand …

Yes, criticism is important for both writers and readers, But what do we have? Academic critics, whose jargon distances the ordinary reader. Reviews in magazines and newspapers, necessarily short, because there is never enough space for books, often casual, if not flippant, poorly informed and at times actuated by malice and frustration. Recently I read somewhere that John Updike’s reviewing was accessible and designed to give pleasure. That’s how a review should be. There should be honesty, not cruelty. And respect for the work being reviewed. Some of the reviews in India are what I can only call soul-destroying. I can imagine what it does to younger writers.

While there are more people writing in English today, we still do not seem to have a domestic market that can sustain indigenous writers.

No, we don’t, which is why I was amazed to read Jeffrey Archer’s comment that the Indian market is bigger than the U.S. market. Things are changing and at some time this may happen, but right now it isn’t true. You and I who are published in India know this very well. I’ll believe that we have a big domestic market the day an author from the West sends a manuscript to an Indian publisher and the Indian publisher says, “our readers won’t understand this. Why don’t you change this and this and this?” And the author does it!

On the one hand, writing is an unhurried, reflective activity. We know that writers take time to mature, to find their voice, and they need publishers who recognise this, and readers who will grow with them. On the other hand is the loud, high octane act of marketing, which is unavoidable today but quite contrary to the spirit of creativity. This also creates a climate of impatience which sends out misleading signals to young writers. That perhaps there are ‘formulas’ for success. It is making it increasingly difficult for writers and readers to trust their judgement. How can we ever resolve these two contrary aspects?

There was a time when I was optimistic, I thought IWE is on the right path, we have many talented writers, publishers and a bigger English readership. But marketing has changed everything. With huge global markets and so much money at stake, it has become frighteningly powerful. The problem with IWE is that writing in English enables a book to enter the world market. And agents/ publishers have their own idea of what an “Indian novel” should be; to be published, writers have to toe the line. I heard an Australian writer say, (they are roughly in the same situation as we are, not enough of a home market, so they need to publish outside) her book was judged by a question: where are the kangaroos? For us, it would be: where are the elephants? Young writers will try to provide the elephants because they need to be published. How does one blame them? And will publishers ever understand that even if the book is now a product to be sold by aggressive marketing, good writing, unlike other products, can’t be produced using a formula! There’s some magic about creation, about its unexpectedness and amazing vitality. We lose out on originality and the unexpected if we try to control or curb creativity. That’s why the willingness and ability of young writers to adapt worries me, because the future of any literature lies with the young.

And you are so right about writers and readers beginning to mistrust their own judgement, given the kind of books that are thrust on us as “great”. But this is where literary critics need to take control and assert literary values, to separate the grain from the chaff.

Equally worrying is what marketing does to readers. Veteran readers may go past known names and best-selling lists to choose a book by an unknown author, or a less-known favourite author. But novice readers have to go entirely by what they read in the media. And the media projects only some authors, the successful ones mainly; most others remain invisible. Readers should not be hustled into buying a book because of marketing spiel! I think that literature is really a conversation between a writer and a reader. We need to re-establish this direct and personal relationship.

But writers persist, despite everything. What would you say to young or aspiring writers?

That’s true. I think the fact that so many of us go on despite indifferent publishers, ignorant reviews and little money makes it clear that it’s the writing that really matters. As for me, I don’t think I’d ever want to do anything else. I’ve written through bad times, through difficult times and later wondered how I did it. But I guess that’s what kept me going, still keeps me going.

Advice for aspiring writers? Keep reading, keep writing, and don’t expect to make a living out of writing. Hold on to your job

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Briefing

Outlook posts Arundhati Roy's latest writting.

My greetings. I'm sorry I'm not here with you today but perhaps it's just as well. In times such as these, it's best not to reveal ourselves completely, not even to each other.

If you step over the line and into the circle, you may be able to hear better. Mind the chalk on your shoes.

I know many of you have travelled great distances to be here. Have you seen all there is to see? The pillbox batteries, the ovens, the ammunition depots with cavity floors? Did you visit the workers' mass grave? Have you studied the plans carefully? Would you say that it's beautiful, this fort? They say it sits astride the mountains like a defiant lion.

Even though this fort has never been attacked, think of how its creators must have lived the idea of being attacked, waited for it. Is this what this fort is...a testament to trepidation?

I confess I've never seen it. The guidebook says it

wasn't built for beauty. But beauty can arrive uninvited, can it not? It can fall upon things unexpectedly, like sunlight stealing through a chink in the curtains. Ah, but then this is the fort with no chinks in its curtains, the fort that has never been attacked. Does this mean its

forbidding walls have thwarted even Beauty and sent it on its way?

Beauty. We could go on about it all day and all night long. What is it? What is it not? Who has the right to decide? Who are the world's real curators, or should we say the real world's curators? What is the real world? Are things we cannot imagine, measure, analyse, represent and reproduce real? Do they exist? Do they live in the recesses of our minds in a fort that has never been attacked? When our imaginations fail, will the world fail too? How will we ever know?

How big is it, this fort that may or may not be beautiful? They say it is the biggest fort ever built in the high mountains.

Gigantic, you say? Gigantic makes things a little difficult for us. Shall we begin by mapping its vulnerabilities? Even though it has never been attacked (or so they say), think of how its creators must have lived and relived the idea of being attacked. They must have waited to be attacked. They must have dreamt of being attacked.

Remember Macbeth? "Who can impress the forest, bid the tree unfix his earthbound root," he asked. He was dead wrong. Trees have unfixed their roots and are on the move.

They must have placed themselves in the minds and hearts of their enemies until they could barely tell themselves apart from those they feared so deeply. Until they no longer knew the difference between terror and desire. And then, from that knothole of tormented love, they must have imagined attacks from every conceivable direction with such precision and cunning as to render them almost real. How else could they have built a fortification like this? Fear must have shaped it; dread must be embedded in its very grain. Is that what this fort really is? A fragile testament to trepidation, to apprehension, to an imagination under siege?

It was built-and I quote its chief chronicler-to store everything that ought to be defended at all costs. Unquote. That's saying something. What did they store here comrades? What did they defend?

Weapons. Gold. Civilisation itself. Or so the guidebook says.

And now, in Europe's time of peace and plenty, it is being used to showcase the transcendent purpose, or, if you wish, the sublime purposelessness, of civilisation's highest aspiration: Art. These days, I'm told, Art is Gold.

I hope you have bought the catalogue. You must. For appearances' sake at least.

As you know, the chances are that there's gold in this Fort. Real gold. Hidden gold. Most of it has been removed, some of it stolen, but a good amount is said to still remain. Everyone's looking for it, knocking on walls, digging up graves. Their urgency must be palpable to you.

They know there's gold in the fort. They also know there's no snow on the mountains. They want the gold to buy some snow.

Those of you who are from here-you must know about the Snow Wars.

Daughters of Wisdom

I saw this wonderful movie recently about Buddhist nuns in Nangchen, a region in the isolated Kham area of Tibet. The women were praying, taking care of their Yaks and living a contented life, away from the misery and suffering of Sansara. The sounds of laughter and echoes of women's voices in the monastery were lovely.

For centuries, the women of rural Tibet have been relegated to subservient roles. Regarded as capable of little more than churning butter, bearing children and saying prayers, they have lived servile lives without access to education or the time to practice Buddhism to the same degree as men. In Daughters of Wisdom, the filmmaker creates a vivid, intimate portrait of the lives of these women, and witnesses their culture, a culture on the verge of positive social change realized through education and religious cultivation.

This from here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Omar Abdullah

The U.P.A. Government had a vote of confidence in Parliament yesterday. Omar gave a rousing and strong speech. Listen to it and watch at the same time M.P.'s popping money out of their bags. A lot of commotion all around..

Here is the transcript.

'I Am A Muslim And I Am An Indian...'
'I see no distinction between the two. I see no reason why I, as a Muslim, have to fear a deal between India and the United States of America (USA)...' The speech that stood out -- it was short, but it was straight from the heart, packing its punches for maximum impact

Omar Abdullah

I think that it is a matter of great misfortune for parties like mine...I do not know whether the Rs one crore that was shown here is genuine or not. But I think that it is extremely unfortunate that if nothing else this Rs one crore is seeking to buy the silence of parties like mine who are not being given an opportunity to speak in a correct manner in this House

I have been a Member of this House for 10 years, and I have never disturbed this House in these 10 years. I have sat with them and I have sat on this side, and I have never disrupted a speaker and yet here they do not have the courtesy to listen to what I have to say...

I am a Muslim, and I am an Indian. I see no distinction between the two. I see no reason why I, as a Muslim, have to fear a deal between India and the United States of America (USA). This is a deal between two countries. It is a deal between, we hope, two countries that in the future will be two equals...

Sir, the enemies of Indian Muslims are not the Americans, and the enemies of the Indian Muslims are not ‘deals’ like this. The enemies of Indian Muslims are the same enemies that all the poor people of India face -- poverty and hunger, unemployment, lack of development and the absence of a voice. It is that we are against: the effort being made to crush our voice.

Sir, I am not a Member of the UPA, and I do not aspire the membership of the UPA. But, Sir, I am extremely unhappy with the way in which my friends in the Left have taken on this self-imposed position of being the certifiers of who is secular and who is not.

Sir, until a few years ago, I was a part of the NDA and I was a minister with them. The same Left people considered me as a political untouchable, and they considered me an outcaste because I was a part of the NDA. Today, the same Left people are telling me that all secular Parties must unite with the BJP to bring down this government. (Interruptions)

Sir, I made the mistake of standing with them once. On the question of Gujarat, I did not resign when my conscience told me to do so, and my conscience has still not forgiven me. I need not make the same mistake again. … (Interruptions)

aapne amarnath ka aarop lagaya aap ek jagaah dikhaiye jahaaN kisi Kashmiri ne yaatra ke khilaf baat ki ho, aap ek jagaah dikhayiye jahaaN kisi Kashmiri ne kahaa ho hameN yaatri nahi chaahiye, ek jagaah dikhaaiye jahaaN pe yatriyoN ke uupar hamla hua ho.

hamaarii zamiiN kaa muddaa thaa ham apnii zamiiN ke liye laRe aur marte dam tak apnii zamiiN ke liye laRenge. lekin ham aapkii tarah firkaaparast nahiiN haiN, ham aapkii tarhaa communal nahiiN haeN, ham masjid nahii giraate ham mandir bhi nahii giraate.

ek sau saal se bhi zyaada amarnath ki yaatra wahaNa chaltii aaii hae aur jab tak kashmir meN musalmaan hae srinagar aur amarnath mai aapkii yaatra chaltii rahaigii.

lekin yeh baat mae daawe se kahena chahataa huuN ke in logoN kii tarhaa merii siyaasat badaltii nahii hai, aaj iss taraf kal uss taraf, hamne secular forces ke saath haath milaya hae aur milaate rahenge.

[Addressing the BJP in Hindi, rough translation:]

You talk of Amarnath, and you have levelled accusations regarding the Amarnath pilgrimage. Please show me one instance where any Kashmiri has spoken against the pilgrimage. Where any Kashmiri may have said that we do not want the pilgrimage. Where the pilgrims may have been attacked.

The issue was our land. We fought for our land. We will continue to fight for our land till our last breath. But unlike you, we are not communal. We do not demolish mosques. We do not demolish temples either.

For over a hundred years, the Amarnath yatra has been going on and as long as there are Muslims in Kashmir, the yatra shall go on.

But I want to say it with conviction that my politics does not change like theirs, today this side and tomorrow that. We have shaken hands with the secular forces and shall continue to do so.

Jammu Kashmir National Conference will vote to support the motion moved by the Prime Minister..

.Here is a link to the video.

I am still looking for Lallu's speech which was supposed to very good as well

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson talks about Melas in London and describes his dancing at my wedding in Delhi. Watch the video, its quite funny the lightbulb lightbulb, motorbike motorbike description of Bhangra.

UK: London Mayor Boris Johnson "Struts His Funky Stuff"
Last week, London's new Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson made a pitch in support of the upcoming London Mela, a major festival celebrating British Asian arts and culture that some have called the "Asian Glastonbury." Speaking at the press launch for the festival, which will be held in early August, Johnson urged Londoners to "get on down" to the festival and "strut [their] funky stuff." He acknowledged that he had merely a "passing" acquaintance with bhangra and reminisced about his effort to learn some moves at a cousin's wedding in Delhi:

I was told you had to do "lightbulb lightbulb, motorbike motorbike." I practiced a great deal, and I had my kurta pajama, and my chappals, and my everything else, and I thought I looked absolutely tremendous. And everybody else turned up in a suit

Thanks Saja for the link

Thursday, July 17, 2008


mistaken (by vikram seth)

i smiled at you because i thought that you
were someone else; you smiled back; and there grew
between two strangers in a library
something that seemed like love; but you loved me
(if that's the word) because you thought that i
was other than i was. and by and by
we found we'd been mistaken all the while
from that first glance, that first mistaken smile.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fosamax users BEWARE

NYT is reporting how people on Fosamax for 6 years or more are suffering more bone fractures.

Drugs to Build Bones May Weaken Them
Published: July 15, 2008
New questions have emerged about whether long-term use of bone-building drugs for osteoporosis may actually lead to weaker bones in a small number of people who use them.

The concern rises mainly from a series of case reports showing a rare type of leg fracture that shears straight across the upper thighbone after little or no trauma. Fractures in this sturdy part of the bone typically result from car accidents, or in the elderly and frail. But the case reports show the unusual fracture pattern in people who have used bone-building drugs called bisphosphonates for five years or more.

Some patients have reported that after weeks or months of unexplained aching, their thighbones simply snapped while they were walking or standing.

“Many of these women will tell you they thought the bone broke before they hit the ground,” said Dr. Dean G. Lorich, associate director of orthopedic trauma surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell and the Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Lorich and his colleagues published a study in The Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma last month reporting on 20 patients with the fracture. Nineteen had been using the bone drug Fosamax for an average of 6.9 years.

Last year, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery published a Singapore report of 13 women with low-trauma fractures, including 9 who had been on long-term Fosamax therapy.

The doctors emphasize that the problem appears to be rare for a class of drug that clearly prevents fractures and has been life-saving for women with severe osteoporosis. Every year, American adults suffer 300,000 hip fractures.

Merck, which makes Fosamax, says it will study whether the unusual fracture pattern is really more common in bone-drug users. Arthur Santora, Merck’s executive director for clinical research, noted that the fracture accounted for only about 5 or 6 percent of all broken hips, while drugs like Fosamax reduced the risk for the other 95 percent.

The fracture pattern did not emerge in placebo-controlled studies of bone drugs. But those studies have lasted only three to five years, although follow-up studies of the drug users have lasted longer. Now that the fracture pattern has been identified, researchers expect more doctors to publish reports.

“I have several similar patients myself,” said Dr. Susan M. Ott, associate professor of medicine at the University of Washington. “Prior to these recent articles, there were a few cases here and a few cases there, but they are kind of starting to add up.”

Bones are in a constant state of remodeling — dissolving microscopic bits of old bone, a process called resorption, and rebuilding new bone. After age 30 or so, a woman’s bones start to dissolve faster than they can be rebuilt, and after menopause she may develop thin, brittle bones that are easily broken. Bisphosphonates, including Fosamax, Procter & Gamble’s Actonel and GlaxoSmithKline’s Boniva, slow this process.

But some experts are concerned that microscopic bone cracks that result from normal wear and tear are not repaired when the bone remodeling process is suppressed. A 2001 study of beagles taking high doses of bisphosphonates found an accumulation of microscopic damage, though there was no evidence that their bones were weaker.

Last September, the medical journal Bone reported on a study of 66 women, financed by Eli Lilly, that showed an association between Fosamax use and an accumulation of microdamage in bones.

In January 2006, the medical journal Geriatrics published an unusual autobiographical case report. Dr. Jennifer Schneider, a 59-year-old physician from Tucson, wrote that she was riding a New York City subway when the train lurched. “I felt a crack and I fell,” she recalled in an interview. “I knew I’d fractured my femur.”

Dr. Schneider, who had been taking Fosamax for seven years, said she had had pain in her thigh, but X-rays and scans had not found a problem.

In recent years, another rare side effect has been associated with bone drugs: osteonecrosis of the jaw, in which a patient’s jawbone rots and dies. Most victims are cancer patients taking a potent intravenous form of the drug, but a small number of cases from ordinary users have been reported.

Notably, studies suggest there is little extra benefit in taking the bone drugs more than five years. Dr. Lorich says that doctors should monitor the bone metabolism of long-term users and that some patients may want to consider taking time off the drugs. When fractures do occur, surgeons need to be alerted about long-term drug use, because the fracture may require more aggressive treatment and be slower to heal.

Dr. Ott says the focus should be on using bone drugs only in patients with a fracture risk of at least 3 percent over the next 10 years. (An online fracture risk tool is at

“Too many of these people are not getting adequate treatment that definitely is beneficial,” Dr. Ott said. “My major caution is that the bisphosphonates should not be used in people who don’t have a high risk of fracture.”

Monday, July 14, 2008

in contemplation

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Teach India

Times of India discusses special programs and inclusion for Learning Disabled Kids in India.

Aranya is eight and in her drawings, elephants can fly. She enjoys art and has a vivid imagination, but when it comes to her studies, she struggles with writing and concentration.

Aranya is suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a neuro-behavioural developmental disorder. The condition manifests itself during childhood and is characterised by a persistent pattern of inattention, forgetfulness, poor impulse control and distraction.

Often children like Aranya are labelled 'lazy' or 'dumb' although they are neither. "My daughter is very creative. She loves painting animals and working with clay. All she needs is a little more time to grasp her lessons. It is unfortunate that in the pursuit of high scores the power of the imagination is under-estimated," says Aranya's mother.

Every child is unique and has his/her own needs. While some need more help to learn and take longer, in the end, they can all learn. "No two children learn the same way. A child has to discover how she/he learns best. There are three ways in which we learn and remember things – by seeing, hearing or doing," says Geet Oberoi, founder-president, Orkids, The Multidisciplinary Clinic.

Children with special educational needs (SEN) find learning more difficult than the majority of children their age. Although the reasons could be diverse, what is most important is that nearly all these children can reach their full potential with additional support and understanding.


Inclusive education means every child irrespective of gender, religion, socio-economic background or needs has the right to attend a mainstream school. Though the government claims to ensure education for every child, schools still lack an inclusive environment where students with different learning needs are made to feel welcome.

Oberoi, however, cautions that though inclusive education is the new mantra, it is not a given that all children with special needs would benefit from it. Instead, she says, "We need to focus on a child's specific needs and then analyse how a mainstream classroom can benefit the child in his/her learning process."

According to Satish Kapoor, founder-director, Brotherhood, "Inclusion is an extremely complex process as traditional ways of thinking and organising education are challenged at the deepest level. It denotes more than the physical placement of a child. It is the provision of educational services to all students in such a manner that all of them, with and without disability, belong, and are considered equal members of the classroom. Besides, society has an equally important role to play in achieving inclusion."

Many schools follow an integrated approach rather than an inclusive one, which means that they have SEN departments within the school to assess children and accordingly provide extra learning support.

The New Yorker Cover

The New Yorker cover is creating quite a stir. It would be a pity if the right wingers would benefit from it. The cover creates caricatures of Obama as Osama and Michelle as a black panther, both ideas created by the Conservative media and politicians in this country. Alternet reacts to the cover negatively.

The Bad Frame: Why Are the New Yorker, Salon and Other Liberal Media Doing the Right's Dirty Work?

By Don Hazen, AlterNet. Posted July 14, 2008.

This week's New Yorker cover image of the Obamas is shocking in the racism and gross stereotyping that is built into its supposed satire. Tools

The New Yorker magazine hits the news stands today with a shocking cover -- a caricature of Barack and Michelle Obama depicting the presidential candidate in a turban, fist-bumping his wife who has a machine gun slung over her shoulder, while the American flag burns in the fireplace. The cover is shocking in that it depicts the Obamas in bizarre caricatured images and associations which reflect the very stereotypes with which the conservatives, particularly Fox News, have been trying to frame both the Obamas. Thus, instead of satire, the cover becomes a political poster for conservatives to reinforce their messages. Senator Obama was shown the cover image by a reporter covering the campaign on Sunday, and while seemingly taken aback, he declined to comment.

But the Obama campaign quickly put out a release condemning the magazine cover. Bill Burton, a spokesman for Obama, said in a statement: "The New Yorker may think, as one of their staff explained to us, that their cover is a satirical lampoon of the caricature Sen. Obama's right-wing critics have tried to create. But most readers will see it as tasteless and offensive. And we agree."

Unfortunately the impact of this image will extend far beyond the reading audience of the New Yorker; cable news and the right-wing media noise machine will amplify the derogatory image to millions more. And the New Yorker of course will reap enormous publicity, clearly translating to increased sales and notoriety for the brand, and for corporate owner Conde Nast -- one of the largest and most powerful media companies in America.

But the publicity could very well backfire. Editor David Remnick and artist Barry Blitt's attempt at satire seems so arrogant and indulgent in its insensitive and out of touch with political and media dynamics of tabloid TV and blogs, that it just might make a lot of people angry, including some subscribers. The cover turns the magazine into a potential Molotov cocktail, to be gleefully tossed by Fox News and the conservative blogs, into the already combustible tinderbox of race and muslim stereotypes just below the surface of America's public discourse.

John Arovosis at America Blog writes:

A liberal publication like the New Yorker thinks it's funny to make Mrs. Obama some radical black panther, and Barack Obama basically a terrorist (you'll note that he looks just like Osama bin Laden on the wall). And this is funny? Is the New Yorker so out of touch that they don't realize that much of America, or at least too much of America, harbors these very concerns about Obama and his wife?

"This might be a case of the liberal media "that bends over so far backwards to be "fair" that it becomes just as bad as FOX News. I'm sure the New Yorker thinks they're actually poking holes in the myth by making light of the stereotypes. Yeah, and tell us how this pokes fun at the stereotype? It reinforces it. And yet again, you'd never see them try anything like this with John McCain. God forbid you even ask a question about John McCain's experience, the media will destroy you. But paint Obama and his wife as America-hating flag-burning violent terrorists, and it's funny.
Jake Tapper of ABC News adds:

"Intent factors into these matters, of course, but no Upper East Side liberal -- no matter how superior they feel their intellect is -- should assume that just because they're mocking such ridiculousness, the illustration won't feed into the same beast in emails and other media. It's a recruitment poster for the right-wing.

""This is as offensive a caricature as any magazine could publish," says a high-profile Obama supporter, "and I suspect that other Obama supporters like me are also thinking about not subscribing to or buying a magazine that trafficks in such trash."
Lindsay Beyerstein, who blogs at Majikthise makes an important point in emphasizing that:

"Our national discourse is impoverished when it comes to racially-loaded images like the New Yorker cover. When I saw the cover, it was clear to me that the the cartoonist was trying to covey a true and important point: All the Obama myths, like his Muslim father, fit together into a coherent and poisonously racist wingnut caricature. These aren't just random rumors. The anti-Obama mythos is a continuation of the ugly narratives that conservatives have been spinning since the civil-rights movement and before. That said, if you put those images on the cover of a national magazine, you're helping Fox spread those sick memes -- whether you intend to or not. It's easy to say "my work means what I mean it to mean, and if you don't get it, that's your problem" -- but it's never that simple. If you're approaching an assignment from a position of incredible privilege, say as a cover cartoonist for the New Yorker, you can't just write off the unintended consequences of your expression. If you insist on doing so, maybe that is racist."

Ingrid Betancourt

Buddha Diaries writes about recently released French Columbian politician Ingrid Betancourt and her Buddhist wisdom. She seems incredibly serene inspite of her torture and captivity for 6 years in a Columbian jungle camp.

... there is no room for hate." So says Ingrid Betancourt, out of the wisdom of her six years of captivity in Columbian jungle camps by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia. "You have to pardon," she continues. I think that's the key of everything. We're human beings. We think different, we act different, but we are human beings."

I watched the few moments of her interview with NBC's Ann Curry that their morning show could spare, and was glad indeed to encounter her humanity. She spoke of the necessity for compassion not out of some philosophical belief, but out of a heart and body exposed to worst a human being might have to experience; extending it not only to those she loves, but to her captors, imprisoners, and torturers. There's true wisdom for you, compassion in its most generous and non-judgmental form. Let's call her "enlightened." To watch Betancourt and listen to her speak is to see and hear Buddhism in practice, with none of its religious trappings but all of its human understanding. Perhaps she, seemingly a devout Catholic, would call it simply Christian. If so, it's Christianity as Christ surely intended it.

"Vengeance is a chain." Listening to these words, I could not help but think about our hapless situation in Iraq, and how the piously "Christian" man in the White House and those he chose to appoint as his advisers exploited our instinctive (read "primitive") need for vengeance after the 9/11 attacks in order to promote his aggressive resource war for oil; and how we are now "chained" to the Middle East in ways that might have been avoided, had he chosen instead the path of wisdom and compassion. Clearly we needed, at that moment, to do what was necessary to protect ourselves from further attack: I personally think that a forceful response to Al Qaeda and its Taliban supporters in Afghanistan was necessary, if regrettable--not as an act of vengeance, but rather as a practical strategy for self-defense.

The invasion of Iraq was a different matter entirely. It could not have been achieved, I think, without the provocation of 9/11. I don't believe the American people would have tolerated the aggression without the exploitation of their emotional reaction to the 9/11 attacks. As a nation, we were still hot with shock and righteous anger, and still grieving those thousands of us who had died. In our rage, we were persuaded to overlook the well-established truth, that violence breeds only violence, and that vengeance never fails to wreak as great a devastation on its perpetrator as upon its victim. Compassion was the last thing on our minds as we surveyed the wreckage of the World Trade Center, deprived of even the bodies of the dead to bury.

Had we done more to address the root causes--among them, the genuine feeling in the Muslim world that the West was out to exploit their resources at the cost of their cultural and religious heritage--we might find ourselves in a very different situation today. Had we been just a little more Buddhist--or more Christian--in our response, we might now have more friends than enemies in that part of the world. Had we really paid attention and fully realized the role of oil in all this global instability, we might have begun to address our own addiction and be headed, already, toward a diminished dependency and a less threatened planet.

Instead, we chose vengeance. And what a powerful chain it has proved to be. We have yet to learn the lesson of Ingrid Betancourt. "We're human beings. We think different, we act different, but we are [all] human beings

Fair and Lovely

Saja describes the Indian obsession with fairness and the beauty products and advertisements that come with it.

ADVERTISING: India's "White Beauty" ads and the fair skin fixation
According to The Independent, women's activists in India are upset about a television ad campaign pushing Pond's "White Beauty" cream. The advertisements, in the form of a multi-episode "miniseries," featuring Bollywood stars, has Saif Ali Khan choosing Neha Dhupia over the "dusky" Priyanka Chopra, who inevitably places her hopes for love in the cream's transformative power. The spot ends with a tantalizing offer: "pale white or pinkish white; you choose."

While the spot is laughably ridiculous, it's also racist, and a testament to the rampant hysterical colorism in South Asia (and amongst South Asians in the diaspora). One wishes the cultural confidence that economic power has afforded India would also help undo our colonially inspired fixation on skin color; but with such a large market for skin lightening products, and not just for women, the likelihood of this is slim. And desi racism isn't just reflexive; as recent events illustrate, we have a long way to go.

More on the campaign at

The campaign was aired on 46 channels including major Hindi general entertainment channels, niche as well as regional channels. The first

episode is 45-seconds long, and new episodes will be aired every 15 days.

“Every episode leaves you at that point where you want to know what happens next,” says Zenobia Pithawalla, senior creative director at Ogilvy and Mather Pvt. Ltd, the ad agency that designed the campaign.

The rest of the story will play out over the next few months and viewers will be able to see, in true Bollywood style, how Chopra transforms herself from an ugly duckling to a beautiful woman.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Ashrama Dharma in the Vedic tradition

Lecture by Dheera Chaitanya

Each society has its own idea of how people should live and interact with each other and live with others. In the Vedic Tradition this idea is also present. It is to maintain a certain degree of harmony. Is this topic still relevant? We are more modern now. Things evolve. Knowledge keeps growing.
But when it comes to do with oneself. How much has changed since 1000’s of years ago.

Valmiki wrote the Ramayan. He asked Narada who strides many worlds, is there a person who has gunas like right and wrong, is strong is a dharmagyani. Who is able to translate knowledge into actions? He is Satyavan. He is a man of resolve. People like to relate to him. People do not like to deal with people who are pains. He is not a victim of his own emotions. Someone who is non reactive, has conquered his anger and envy. All these qualities put together a person.

The positive qualities in a person have not changed so the age old Dharma Shastras are still relevant. Dharma Shastra is a manual on how to live ones life on a personal level and in society. Human behavior is not self operating. Animals like monkeys have behavior that is self operating. There confrontations are to do with creating a hierarchy.

Human beings have a freedom of choice, so certain guidelines are important for behavior. Animals are preprogrammed we are not. We are not born with a capacity to make good choices. But the time we are ready to figure it out we are usually too old. Therefore we need an instruction manual. The manual also tells us about the purpose of life. We need to improve on our environment. Scriptures help discover meaning in life.

Syambhu (Manu) tells his son to became a grashatha and take on the life of a householder. But his son is more spiritual and not interested in the mundane world. A jeeva is born to experience the world, in birth and death. You are born to do Karma and experience the karma of past actions, through sukha and dukha. The jagat manifests and everyone is subject to it, including myself Brahma and lord Shiva. In the process he grows and learns.

How we view human experience is different in east and west.

I am born and what relationship do I have with others. Freedom is the final end. Another way of looking at human experience is more western. The bigger scheme is here, I am a participant. The world has been created for human consumption. Whatever there is in the world, since humans are the most evolved its all here for my consumption. I have to consume, subjugate, conquer and use. I have to change my environment to suit my needs. Consumption is not just eating, but also includes enjoyment. I protect my right to enjoy them. If I was concerned about sanctity of animals, I would not protect one and eat another. End result to give oneself time to enjoy. So much available, but my capacity to enjoy is limited.
How am I going to experience this world? Live purely a consumer based on likes and dislikes (Raga Dvesha). Or am I part of a larger picture. Or do I like a non consumer oriented life.

The Vedas are a body of knowledge complied in 4 different sections, basically saying the same thing.

There is another body of knowledge called Vedantagas- consisting of phonetics, grammar, miter, etymology, know how of performing rituals, astrology.
Sutra is a brief cryptic statement.

Values are mentioned in Kalpa Sutras
Dharma Sutras talk in detail about individual conduct, as members of a society and family.
Dharma shastras is a body of knowledge that deals with conduct and behavior on a personal level for the purpose of helping me do things.
At the end of life we should have a sense of resolution or fulfillment.

The tradition has a vision of human beings achieving this freedom. The goal is the basis of my very existence, and I can live my life as an expression of that fulfillment and contentment. The path is hard, and the process becames an expression of the actualization of the goal. Dharma does not become a shackle but creates a harmony about my existence. This is the subject matter.

Many books are written by Rishis or Smriti’s eg Manusmiriti. There are 18 Smritis available, each emphasize different elements.
In addition to that we have in India regional Smritis based on culture. Nibandagranthas.

How did the rules and regulations come about?
Are they like driving rules?
The rishis asked Vyasa. He said I studied it from my father.
He says these dharmas are the same as the ones in previous Yugas Centuries. At the end of KalYuga they go away. Only Brahma will remember these rules. Manifest of the unmanifest and the manifested again. You either work with harmony with it or against it, that is your choice.

This is how the whole idea of dharma and adharma is understood. Ultimately the right and wrong is connected to the vision of the Vedas and with which our whole life is connected.

Why is it necessary to live a life of dharma?
Growth is an important thing, physical growth does not insure cognitive growth. Cognitive growth does not insure emotional growth. Because I am informed and intelligent Emotional growth does not insure spiritual growth. One does not insure that the other will be there. In the Vedic vision living with spiritual values helps you lead a good life towards freedom or moksha. Yoga shashtra is a life of discipline and study. This leads to freedom of sansara and janama. The sansar binds you as a consumer, draws you in and binds you in. If you recognize karma, janma also becomes bondage. Dharma is duty.
What duties are expected of me as a person. They vary depending on the human being. But there are some general prescriptions. These are grouped under Varna and Ashrama Dharma.

Varna is explained as caste. Based on inner qualities and work that you do.

Ashrama dharma is a stage of growth. Depending on your age your requirements are different. By performing the duties, a person becomes a mature person. There are some universal values that are within the context of dharma. Truthfulness is a universal value. As is not hurting each other. First stage is pre marriage Brahmacharya. Before 7 he lives according to his natural instinct, as he wishes he eats talks etc. Not liable for his actions. It takes about 14 years for a person to mature. Emphasis is on study and being a student.
After age of 7 kids realize intent. Also at this stage it’s a life of austerity. Some degree of mastery over likes and dislikes comes later with the practice of austerity now. Service to teachers and parents with emphasis on prayers. This is a learning period. Secular and religious education. Secular education teaches you how to pursue artha karma (securities and pleasure). Religious education is for the weekend here. In the Vedic tradition everything is sacred. The spiritual pervades the secular. Your artha karma has to be in the rubric of the spiritual. It cannot be isolated from a through understanding of write and wrong. They are learning to negotiate there identity in the world.

We can recognize it by understanding how to use today. What is priority what is not as a parent one has to decide? Help your child negotiate through the system. Give your child clear messages. This cannot be separated from a person’s life. After completing brahmacharya education he comes back, with a good sense of dharma. And is ready to embark on a new phase of life.
He should not remain in no mans land. He should continue study or live a life of a householder.

One phase prepares you for the second phase of development. If there are problems in one, there will be problems in the other. The next ashram is grastha.
Vanaprastha is after living as a grastha, after the first grandchild is born. The person retires from active pursuit of artha kama and goes to a van (forest) and its a time of tapas and learning to be with oneself. Life of solitude and prayer. If he is physically fit and lives the lifestyle of a sanyasi.

Dharma Shashtri has niyams that you have to follow.
Tyaga is giving up mental and physical concerns. Living a life of a bhikshu. In every ashram one is bound by obligation and indebt ness. One is released from all of this in Vanaprastha.

Grashta- Decides to get married. Reasons can be companionship, make someone happy, peer pressure. To be a happy fulfilled person you have to feel that you are doing things in a right way. Marriage should not be from the same lineage. From the mother’s side it should be at least 5 times removed and 7 times removed from the father side. Relationship where we complement each other, those people should get married. A person remains half until they get married then they became complete. That is the nature of creation. Whole samskara of marriage reaffirms and reestablishes rituals.
Ashrama means that which sustains living a life of tapas. It is not meant to constrain but instead to give us a direction in life.

A typical life of a householder is prayer and worship. Living a life of moderation is important, even in eating. Act mature and be non reactive. For growth to take place you need a conducive environment, in order to clean up the mess. This environment will help me see myself, be supportive, caring this will help me nourish and heal. I need an environment that I can trust. These necessities are provided in a mature relationship where there is a commitment and security. Otherwise anytime I displease someone they go away. I feel comfortable enough to feel myself.

Non judgmental and uncritical way then this will help me undo things within myself. So marriage is about commitment. Then you make a resolve to the other person and yourself to ensure that you keep your commitment in a marriage.

Self correction done on emotional and personal level when environment is conducive. Then two people grow at the same time, not one at the expense of another. We all have different areas of maturity. Self knowledge knows who I am my nature and my swarupa.

The usual mind has a lot of problems looking at things how they are. Everything is seen subjectively. My mind has to have a capacity to look at myself, not live defensively and not put up guards. Cognitively I can understand concepts, but here it is not outside yourself. I am a part of this equation. It’s important to have a simple mind that does not have too many complexes, it sees things as they are, and it sees the obvious. The mind that has fewer projections and more shraddha you will gain gyanam.

Attachment and dispassion.
For 2 people to be compatible in every way is very difficult. But as long as both are growing it is ok. If the spouse is anukulam (compatible) then it is swarga (heaven). If the two are working against each other, then no doubt you are living in hell. What makes things Anukulam and what makes them Pratikulam.

Some factors that make a relationship Anukulam.

My rights I demand while others demand theirs, instead if we think of them as duties to perform it will be different. I gain from the performance of my duty; I get a sense of fulfillment.

We come from different experiences, so we cannot be similar. How to make those differences work in our favor. Look at yourself as an individual relating to another individual. Ashrama becames a Sadhana, we should see Marriage also as a sadhana. What is the end ? Personal growth? One has to play different roles in society, for that you need a sense of security. We should not lose our individuality in the process. These attitudes bring about a sense of harmony in the home.

Being reactive is also not helpful. Lots of people react aggressively in the dinning table. How they react to food is very important. It shows a fulfillment of a basic need. Some people react angrily if the salt is too much or too little. It is not based on reality but instead it is based on projections.

A certain degree of self awareness is important, so one can look at oneself and then see how to respond.

Not knowing the difference between fulfilling ones needs and being overly needy. Whatever comes is not enough, does not give contentment or satisfaction. It has to do with a sense of being deprived. People who have low self esteem have these issues. On the other hand a person may have too much then they will still feel that they do not have enough.

Control is another important issue. In adulthood we need to sort out our issues. We are controlling when we feel not in control. It is a way to overcompensate. In life there are things that are out of our control, some people deal with it while others cannot deal with it. It is a defensive tactic. We try to control parents, children and spouses. Learning how to deal with unexpected changes is an important lesson.

Being a parent is a very important lesson to again go through childhood. Time does not come back. When we have the capacity we do not have the wisdom, when we have the wisdom we do not have the capacity.
When we have children we have to become a teacher, so we have to relearn all that I did not know. We gain certain clarity about our life. It is more than a commitment than a marriage. They are there to stay and harass you as long as you are around. Parenting helps one grow.

Trusting somebody is important. We all trust and mistrust it depends on the situation.
But what degree of trust am I capable of trusting. If I am not trusted I lose trust in the other person. If I do not have a capacity of trust I will not trust people. We have to rediscover the capacity to trust. We will only trust that who is not fallible, that person is only god.

If I do not react, then I am accommodating the other person or I have shanti. But for that I need to have trust and something bigger. This is all a process of growth and an opportunity for self growth.

The one who has shraddha gains gyanam, it is based on trust of the guru. Cognitively we need to look at the bigger picture.

Anger is another reaction to frustration. It is a very uncomfortable feeling. There are different expressions of anger. Men and women show anger differently. Men express anger by fight or flight. They hurt by criticizing, putting them down, saying hurtful things. They do it because they are hurting. This is how they deal with their anger. Or they withdraw or back off. You act like the person does not exist, or you withhold attention, caring and affection. Women act like it does not bother them, they minimize the whole thing, and they fake it. But that does not work because it is not true or honest and it leads to more hurt or they go along with it. This leads to a loss of individuality. They try to keep the peace, an enabling kind of thing. This leads to depression. It is important to express it as it is. This takes a simple mind. Saying I feel hurt is important. A simple mind can be what it is.

How does our tradition envision a couple at the end of the maturing process. Agnividya and Maitreya. Are these things that you are ready to give up, will they make me happy. He teachers Brahma vidya. Both of them in this story a certain degree of tyaga is necessary both have as much tyaga as each other. Both have reached the point. Single people form a unit of one, once you get married that unit, is shared by 2 halfs each person being half a unit. But at the same time remaining a full complete person.

Monday, July 07, 2008

An Ideal Husband!

Maureen Dowd writes on the wisdom that a priest imparts to young women contemplating marriage.

This weekend, we celebrate our great American pastime: messy celebrity divorces.

There’s the Christie Brinkley/Peter Cook fireworks on Long Island and the Madonna/Guy Ritchie/A-Rod Roman candle in New York.

So how do you avoid a relationship where you end up saying, “The man who I was living with, I just didn’t know who he was” — as Brinkley did in court when talking about her husband’s $3,000-a-month Internet porn and swinger site habit? (Not to mention the 18-year-old mistress/assistant.)

Father Pat Connor, a 79-year-old Catholic priest born in Australia and based in Bordentown, N.J., has spent his celibate life — including nine years as a missionary in India — mulling connubial bliss. His decades of marriage counseling led him to distill some “mostly common sense” advice about how to dodge mates who would maul your happiness.

“Hollywood says you can be deeply in love with someone and then your marriage will work,” the twinkly eyed, white-haired priest says. “But you can be deeply in love with someone to whom you cannot be successfully married.”

For 40 years, he has been giving a lecture — “Whom Not to Marry” — to high school seniors, mostly girls because they’re more interested.

“It’s important to do it before they fall seriously in love, because then it will be too late,” he explains. “Infatuation trumps judgment.”

I asked him to summarize his talk:

“Never marry a man who has no friends,” he starts. “This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands. I am always amazed at the number of men I have counseled who have no friends. Since, as the Hebrew Scriptures say, ‘Iron shapes iron and friend shapes friend,’ what are his friends like? What do your friends and family members think of him? Sometimes, your friends can’t render an impartial judgment because they are envious that you are beating them in the race to the altar. Envy beclouds judgment.

“Does he use money responsibly? Is he stingy? Most marriages that founder do so because of money — she’s thrifty, he’s on his 10th credit card.

“Steer clear of someone whose life you can run, who never makes demands counter to yours. It’s good to have a doormat in the home, but not if it’s your husband.

“Is he overly attached to his mother and her mythical apron strings? When he wants to make a decision, say, about where you should go on your honeymoon, he doesn’t consult you, he consults his mother. (I’ve known cases where the mother accompanies the couple on their honeymoon!)

“Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins. My mother was once asked how she managed to live harmoniously with three men — my father, brother and me. Her answer, delivered with awesome arrogance, was: ‘You simply operate on the assumption that no man matures after the age of 11.’ My father fell about laughing.

“A therapist friend insists that ‘more marriages are killed by silence than by violence.’ The strong, silent type can be charming but ultimately destructive. That world-class misogynist, Paul of Tarsus, got it right when he said, ‘In all your dealings with one another, speak the truth to one another in love that you may grow up.’

“Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him. He’s a heavy drinker, or some other kind of addict, but if he marries a good woman, he’ll settle down. People are the same after marriage as before, only more so.

“Take a good, unsentimental look at his family — you’ll learn a lot about him and his attitude towards women. Kay made a monstrous mistake marrying Michael Corleone! Is there a history of divorce in the family? An atmosphere of racism, sexism or prejudice in his home? Are his goals and deepest beliefs worthy and similar to yours? I remember counseling a pious Catholic woman that it might not be prudent to marry a pious Muslim, whose attitude about women was very different. Love trumped prudence; the annulment process was instigated by her six months later.

“Imagine a religious fundamentalist married to an agnostic. One would have to pray that the fundamentalist doesn’t open the Bible and hit the page in which Abraham is willing to obey God and slit his son’s throat.

“Finally: Does he possess those character traits that add up to a good human being — the willingness to forgive, praise, be courteous? Or is he inclined to be a fibber, to fits of rage, to be a control freak, to be envious of you, to be secretive?

“After I regale a group with this talk, the despairing cry goes up: ‘But you’ve eliminated everyone!’ Life is unfair.”

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Dara Torres

NYT writes on the amazing Dara Torres.

And with that, Torres grabbed her workout sheet, stuck it to the side of the pool and got down to business. The mood at practice was calm, and as Torres warmed up, her lean frame stretched out among the 16 other spectacular bodies, it was easy to forget that before last year nobody believed that a 41-year-old mother of a toddler, coming off a six-year hiatus, could swim this fast.

According to her coach, Michael Lohberg, Torres should feel less pressure than his other, younger swimmers. “What’s the worst thing that can happen to her?” he asks. “She goes home to her daughter and her partner. Her whole sense of self-worth doesn’t come down to tenths and hundredths of seconds in a pool.” But Torres doesn’t necessarily agree with that opinion. She takes seriously her new role: hero of the middle-aged. About an hour into the morning’s workout, all the swimmers gathered in the center of the pool for a much-loathed drill, vertical kicking. The task at hand was to hoist one’s torso out of the water, using only a flutter or dolphin kick, for 40 seconds, 12 times, with 35-second breaks between each rep. For the last 10 seconds of each vertical kick, the coach yelled, “Streamline,” meaning the swimmers, while still kicking, had to extend their arms straight overhead, one hand on top of the other.

At first Torres led good-natured griping among the swimmers. But after five kicks, the sets were done in silence, all of the athletes too exhausted and miserable to complain. The coach even stopped yelling, as his swimmers’ eyes were on the clock; everyone knew when to pop up and when to come back down. Yet each time, Torres rose to her vertical kick a second before everybody else, and there she was, rising out of the water, for a few moments longer at the end.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Tariq Ramadan

Hindustan Times reports Tariq Ramadan's talk at the IIC in Delhi recently.

Forty-five-year-old Tariq Ramadan, professor of Islamic studies at Oxford University, is part-intellectual, part-reformist, part-controversial, but a full-on fundamentalist. “A fundamentalist,” he asks, “is one who relies on the fundamentals of what he believes in. So what’s wrong?” And fundamentalism — whenever it has come to mean something untenable — is not an Islamic concept at all, he argues, but a Protestant one.

So, just who is Ramadan and why is he as much liked as hated? He is a Swiss citizen of Egyptian origin residing in Britain, and who the Time magazine has named as one among “the 100 most important innovators of the 21st century”. His grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, founded the fiercely anti-West Muslim Brotherhood, who many say sowed the seeds of the al-Qaeda. This, however, he denies.

Ramadan shot into limelight in 2003

after a fiery debate on national television with far-right French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, now president. Sparks flew as Ramadan took on Sarkozy for calling Muslims in Paris neighbourhoods “scums”. Then, four years ago, the US refused to let him take up a teaching position at the University of Notre Dame.

For his ardent admirers, Ramadan is a “Muslim Martin Luther” with a rockstar’s popularity and a diplomat’s tact. With stirring speeches, he is out to reconcile Islam with a hostile world. To his critics, depending on who they are, he could be a “dangerous guy” on a “covert mission”, “Janus-faced and doublespeaking”, an “anti-Semite”, and — for hardcore Islamists — a reformer trying to dilute

Salafist Islam.

Whenever he speaks, young, educated Muslims file in as if it were another call to prayer and play his speeches on CDs that are widely marketed. On a muggy evening, a crowded New Delhi audience had just heard one, in rapt attention, when he spoke on “Islam, the Quran and Western Muslims” during the “Dialogues of Faith Series” at the India International Centre. As soon as he finishes his lecture, a mob homes in on him, eager to introduce themselves, speak to him and take down his contact details.

It’s an assorted group: students from Jamia Millia Islamia, a UN official, a JNU professor, a French journalist and a few others. He hesitatingly hands out his business cards, asking: “…but what will you do with it?” There is a distinct aura and, clearly, he has fans among people he has never interacted with before.

“We as Muslims are struggling to remain who we are,” he says in a brief interview to the HT. As always, he sports a neatly clipped beard and, in a black jacket with an open blue shirt, looks like a scholar with a very functional dress code.

Western critics have often accused Ramadan for having a “forked tongue”. The controversial Muslim scholar says he comes from the reformist tradition of Islam but at the same time, had asked “all people of conscience” to boycott Italy’s largest book at Turin for honouring the state of Israel on its 60th statehood anniversary earlier this year.

Ramadan says it is the understanding of the Islamic texts — and the context — that needs reform. Moreover, Muslims should create a creative presence wherever they are.

In a globalised world and across societies, people have become more concerned about identities and that is where, he feels, the Islam-versus-Rest conflict partly begins. There is the Old Muslim Presence, he says, and the New Muslim Presence and many feel threatened of the latter. “We are coming up with problems which we never had. In India, where I have come after a gap of 10 years, I feel Muslims are much more vunerable now and palpable. One can feel their sense of insecurity.” This is because of the narrow understanding of Hinduism and Islam that some politicians have in this country, he says.

For European Muslims, Ramadan is an inspiring figure because he is fighting for mainstreaming of Muslims. He says the integration (of immigrant Muslims) is long over. “What integration?” he asks, adding: “What we are dealing with are post-integration issues. And do not forget, we all have to get out of the minority mentality.” He feels when Muslim rioters ran amok in the suburbs of Paris, they displayed French characteristics, proof that they were only acting their nationality. “What do the French do when they are unhappy? They protest like these Muslims did.”

Despite his anti-US stance, Ramadan is one ‘opportunity’ the West doesn’t want to let go of because he is strongly opposed to things like “Islamic order” and “terrorism”. “Killing of innocents is anti-Islamic. How many times have we told you that?” The clearest view of his ideals comes from a paragraph deeply buried in one of his most famous books, Western Muslims and the Future of Islam (2004). “The aim, he writes, “is to protect the Muslim identity and religious practice, to recognize the Western constitutional structure, to become involved as a citizen at the social level and to live with true loyalty to the country to which one belongs.”

And, by the way, he feels the term “Islamic terrorism” and questions like “are you Muslim first or an Indian” are an oxymoron. And only morons ask them.

our body is our home

Home is whee the body is