Monday, April 12, 2010

#31. Some Good Times

The Most Satisfying Moments of My Life

I was a young Sub-Divisional Officer in a place which still had some unreachable areas where no SDO had ever visited. Jashpur was a hilly area more a part of adjoining state of Bihar than the then Madhya Pradesh. It was early seventies and I had some funds in the local body under my charge. With some additional money from a government scheme I decided to make 50 school buildings. I had visited each and every selected village, selected the site, sometimes stayed over when the overseer put the layout. It was not necessary, but it gave me satisfaction.
In one village, there was a pucca well which was made under some government scheme. Next to it was a piece of land which was ideal for the school, and I homed in on it. I casually inquired whether the well was being used by the villagers. It was a pointless question, as the well looked deserted.
“Sir, the well water is not used”. I was curious,”Why?”
“The water is bitter”. The village had another common well, and that seemed to be just enough.
“Anyway, the water seems good enough for construction purposes, and we will build the school here.”
Those days the school building construction was a little prolonged affair. It was drawing to summer, and the first thing was to make clay bricks which needed quite some water, and fire a kiln with coal which was carried from outside. Coal area was nearby in Bihar. Cement had to be carried, but all other building material was local: country tiles, timber and doors and windows made by the local carpenter. I closely monitored this scheme which was close to my heart, and a few months later I did go to the same village again to watch the progress. The school was on the verge of completion. The well nearby had proved handy. I saw another
thing which raised my curiosity. I saw some village belles drawing water from the well.
“What are they taking water for?”
“For household purposes”was the reply. Then somebody who was present during my last visit explained,”Sir, as a large quantity of water was drawn for brick making and for construction purposes, whatever impurity was there in the water was removed, and now the villagers have started using the water.”
So obviously the water was polluted by some wild plant or maybe some dead animal, and there was nothing wrong with the water. Unintentionally I had brought the well back to life.
I was Collector at Durg which is now in Chhattisgarh. In the lean season every year, the landless and marginal and small cultivators need some job as there are no agricultural operations going at that time. There were not many regular labour- intensive employment generating schemes at that time. But there was a provision in the Scarcity Manual under which an area could be declared scarcity-affected and work could be taken up under orders of the Collector. This became a regular feature in that part of the State. Even now there is a substantial migration of labour during summer from Chhattisgarh to other more prosperous states. I hasten to add that sometimes there was a genuine scarcity and works were needed to sustain the village folk. Now it was a one of those years. I had gone to a block headquarters for a normal visit which a Collector is supposed to do, and also to check scarcity works going on in the area.
The Agriculture Extension Officer came to me and was explaining about a loan scheme which he had diligently prepared in consultation with a local bank for deepening a couple of ponds for the benefit of the fishermen who had the contract for the fishing rights over them. It was a good scheme, and the AEO was sincere. I checked up the status of the village. It was in the list of scarcity affected areas.
With a straight face I asked, “Have you thought of taking the work under the scarcity programme?”
The AEO was taken unawares. He hadn’t imagined that it could be taken up fully with the government funds without any burden to the fishermen’s society. Ultimately I sanctioned a small amount of probably 25 to 30 thuosand for each after going through the normal procedure of obtaining the estimates, and sanctioning the amount from the district headquartes. My timely visit to the village saved the fishermen from avoidable indebtedness.
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In another area a lift irrigation scheme which was handed over to a cooperative society of the villagers for running and maintenance was at that time neglected and became non-functional because of lack of contribution from the members. And there were paddy crops nearby which were dying because of lack of water. To say the least I was amazed. I asked the local AEO to see that the LIS started working, and assured the power dues from the scarcity funds. The connection was originally terminated for that reason only. The scheme could restart. The credit goes mainly to the AEO who did all the spadework and running around. I haven’t been able to understand the psyche of the villagers who allowed it to go to the seed. It may have been a plentiful year when water was in plenty.

#30.Inside and Outside

The Most Embarrassing Moments of my Life.

I was an undergraduate student in my late teens. I had come home during summer vacations. I got a call from the college for the summer camp of N.C.C. The first step was to get washed all the khaki uniforms that was issued to me. Well, I gave them to the neighbouring washerman - our regular family washerman used to stay a few miles away. The washerman returned the washed uniforms a few days later. I found a pair of trousers short. He assured that he will check and asked me to come the next day.
Next day I went. He stated that he had checked and it was not there. I gave him a piece of my mind and insisted that I will see all the washed and pressed clothes that he had. Well, he took me there and I saw his entire stack one by one. The trousers was not there. I cursed my bad luck and came back. As a parting shot the washerman told me more in distress than anger that it was for the first time that anybody went to check his entire stock. It haunted me and even now I remember it with shame and embarrassment as a few days after when I was leaving for the camp, I opened my trunk. Well, the trousers was there, duly washed and pressed. That must have been the reason why I did not give it the washerman in the first instance. Needless to say that as a young man I was too proud to go and apologize to the washer man.

This experience of mine came in good stead much later in life. One day my wife lost her gold Kada (bracelet). She searched and searched and couldn’t find it. And the suspicion fell on the maid-servant. My wife consulted one of her friends who was a police officer’s wife. She advised her to report to police, and they would be able to do the job. I asked my wife to wait for a day more, search once more in the various nooks and crannies, and if even then she was not able to find it, she could take recourse to police. I asked her to remove the mattresses on the double bed. The bed was also moved, and lo and behold, the kada was lying on top of the trunk which was just under the bed. It seems that the board on the bed had a gap and the bracelet had slipped from there to the top of the trunk!

*** *** *** ***

It was my first charge as the Sub-Divisional Officer in a small town of 10,000. Being in charge of a subdivision some 200 km away from the district headquarters, I was asked to do flag hoisting at a college and a school on the republic day. It was the college first. I reached on the ground dot at 8.30 as scheduled. The parade-in-charge looked at me with a puzzled look. I could not make out what it was, and I was also puzzled. Next was the school, which was after a sufficient gap of time. I reached the school The old Principal had an irritated look on his face. I was again perplexed.
I could discover the reason only in the evening when I found from my transistor (sorry, TV had not come to India till then) that the old wrist watch was wearing from my student days was exactly 10 minutes slow. How it had happened I just don’t know, but the fact was that I was late by 10 minutes in functions where punctuality is still observed. Well, from the next month’s salary I changed the watch.

A funny incident of similar nature had occurred when I was Collector of a district on leave vacancy. This was the flag hoisting by a minister in the district headquarters. After the flag hoisting and at the time of the national anthem there was some trouble from a section of students in a corner. Well, the anthem was over in 52 seconds. Now the shouting was clearer: ‘jhanda ulta hai’. Yes the flag was upside down, with green at the top. The poor minister had mistakenly pulled the wrong string. Let us not blame him . It must be the police constable who handed him the wrong end of the string. We all being near the flag could not see it so easily but it was clearly visible from a distance. Neeeedless to say, the flag was hastily brought down and put back the right way up.

Another incident relating to flag hoisting on republic day happened at another district when I was the Collector, and again some Minister who had to do the flag hoisting. Just a minor hitch, nothing serious, though if I club the three incidents together I must consider 2+6=8, the date, to be my unlucky number. The previous day we had done the rehearsal. A young police officer was entrusted with the job of escorting the Minister to the parade ground. The time taken by him from the circuit house to the parade ground was duly noted by him. The Minister was to reach at the spot sharp at 9 am. Myself, the District Superintendent of Police and the young officer (I am deliberately not naming him- he has just retired at a fairly high level) had synchronised our watches. The next morning I and SP reached the spot well in time. Suddenly we found the Minister’s car coming in about 3-4 minutes ahead of the schedule. We were non-plussed, and at the spur of the moment decided to go ahead with the programme even though a few moments before time. I remember the SP was wild on the young officer and it was with difficulty that he could control himself in front of the Minister and everybody else including the large gathering. Later we tried to find out why the young officer had brought the Minister early. His explanation was that in the night he had synchronised his watch with the radio, probably hoping that we would also do the same. Any way he did not inform any of us either in the night or in the morning. Now I think his watch must have been the winding or the self-winding type, and would have stopped for sometime and on finding it out he synchronised it with the radio. There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip!

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A few years ago I had gone to a hill resort in an English-speaking country. No names. We had to go by ropeway to the top of a peak. There was a music shop with cassettes and cd’s. I don’t know much of classical music whether Indian or European, but sweet tunes can be enjoyed even by an ignoramus like me. I did buy a couple of cd’s there which were in a separate carry bag. An hour or so later when I was elsewhere I put my hand in the tweed jacket I was wearing. Suddenly I felt something hard in my pocket. My firangi host was with me. I was in jitters. I could guess what had happened. Unconsciously I had put a cassette in my pocket, without realising that it was there. I had not paid for it. Had it been sensitised then I would have had it. I thought of confessing to my foreign friend, but then the thought arose of all the ensuing complications and the fall in his esteem for me. After a long debate with my conscience I decided to keep mum. Even after more than two decades of the incident, it rankles, and puts me to shame. Not that at that time I was not used to foreign lands. I had stayed in a firang land for 14 months to get a degree. I can only say that I don’t know how this unconscious act happened. I at that time suddenly remembered an old incident involving Indian film star Nargis. The incident happened later with Rekha I think, another film actor. They must have got enough money to be on a buying spree, and it is understandable that they also unconsciously pocketed a pair of socks or some such thing for which they had every intention of paying. But the thought that I could have been caught still fills me with trepidation.

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

#29. Indian Festivals: A Viewpoint

Festivals- Indian Style

Muslims slaughter a whole goat for Id-uz-zuha (Bakrid or Qurbani), and eat kebabs and sewai (vermicelli and milk pudding) on the occasion of Id-ul-Fitr. Christians have turkey on Christmas day which is almost ten times the size of a gawthi murghi (local fowl). And Hindus f-a-s-t during festivals. It is true for Ram Navmi, Janmashtami, Shivratri, Durga Puja and also for the Festival of Lights, which generally falls in end October-November. On this day, people are supposed to fast for the day, worship the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, in the evening and then partake food. I frankly don’t know why fasting is so closely associated with the rites and rituals of Hindu religion. Why, even the bride is supposed to fast on the day of her marriage, what to say of Teej and Karva Chauth when fasting is more rigorous. The other fad intricately linked with our religion (and fasting) is turning veggie on certain days. Tuesday most of North India turns vegetarian. During Navratri (nine days before Dashera), people keep fast, some do not take salt even and those who don’t fast are emotionally blackmailed by their wives to be strict veggie during those nine days. And when our pandits were not satisfied with nine days of fasting during Dashera, they discovered another Navratri before Ram Navmi, the birth anniversary of Ram (one of the trinity of the most revered forms of God (Ram, Krishna and Shiva). Another nine days of fasting and/or vegetarianism. Panditji will counter with the remark: ‘What about Muslims who fast during the entire thirty days of the month of Ramzan?’ ‘But my dear Sri Watson, they take two meals during the day, Sehri in the morning and Iftaar in the evening. Anyway, to dilute what I said before, during our childhood days, we looked forward to such fasting festivals to eat something different for the everyday routine. Potato, sago, nuts, milk pudding with makhana (popped lotus seeds), banana and all kinds of fruits, and loaf made of dried waternut and kuttu flour. Thus some of the laity does have a gastronomic gala time, It is the religiose who have to suffer. Suffering, tapasya (penance),, and sanyam (abstemiousness) are intrinsically linked with Hinduism and Jainism.
They say that Rakshabandhan is a festival of the Brahman (the thinkers, advisors and teachers), Dashera of the Kshatriya (the warriors), Diwali for the Vaishya (the business class) and Holi for the Shudra (slaves and those who did menial work). Kshatriyas do shastra puja (weapon worship) on Dashera day. When my father was killed by a petty dacoit in his village, I started shastra puja on the Dashera day despite being born in a Brahman family. My wife is horrified. In spite of being a Kayastha, she keeps fast on Thursdays, and another three days in the week are vegetarian for her. Needless to say, the remaining three days are festive for her, and that gastronomic delight gives its share to poor me as well.
In most of North India, crackers start bursting from about 5 p.m. almost continuously on the Diwali day, and keep on and on till about 11 p.m. when it subsides a little. My wife’s cousin is so sound allergic that he runs away from Mumbai on that day. My nastiest thought on such blunderbussing is that it would be easy to shoot somebody on Diwali day without anybody getting wiser.
Crackers bring accidents, and during my childhood and even young days, it was a routine for me to get burnt on diwali, though, touch wood, everytime it was nothing serious. During my civil services examination more than three and a half decades ago, I burnt my right hand (mercifully not seriously), and for a few days after that I was in jitters. Thank God my writing hand was absolutely fit on the day of the next paper.
One good custom is to clean and whitewash your house just before Diwali. The geo-climatic reason is not far to seek. October-November is the end of rainy season in India, and the right time to do some cleaning and printing.
A phenomenon which I have been observing for a few decades is the confusion on the exact date of some of the festivals. So some people observe it one day, and some on the next. My feeling is that it is a confusion deliberately created by the pandits who let you perform the puja and other religious rites. If you have the same festival on two successive dates, a pandit can visit more homes. Muslims also have confusion about the exact date of the two Ids, but that is firmed up when you see the moon, and there is no duplication of dates.
So enjoy your Diwali sweets, kheer-pudi, and the variety of fried goodies which many of the ladies still prepare with love and care in north Indian homes. Happy Diwali!

#28. Double Standards

Double Standards

Strange are the ways of the Anglo Saxons. If you go by what you read in the novels, magazines and the page 3 people, the Americans and The English have the most liberal attitude to sex and various kinds of liaison: teenage, premarital, postmarital, and unisexual. The sale of contraceptives add the right of even teenagers to it. The percentage of divorcees are, if I am not mistaken, between one third to two-fifth of the total population. For some divorce is at the drop of a hat, something which probably they undergo to legitimise the relationship for the duration it lasts but most probably to legitimise the children which they may beget during that time period. You read in the newsmagazines about single mothers and teenage pregnancies. Sometime back the result of a survey done in U.S. and England was published. It was by an organisation called RSCG Worldwide. It found that 59% of Britons thought it normal for a thirty something to have had 10 or more lovers before getting married. In US, the percentage was 49%. 11% Britons thought extra marital affairs in which nobody gets hurt is acceptable. In US it was lower at 9%.
But when it comes to politicians, they use the time machine to go back to Victorian morality. Poor Clinton! What he did could be only a minor indiscretion for a lesser mortal. Remember some British star? I cannot recall his name, who had a short release (like the Indian long distance truck driver) in a park I think. There are any number of examples. John Profumo is probably the oldest example. The French are more liberal- remember Mitterand? And now there are the Prime Ministers of France and Italy! And so are Indians have also shown tolerance or indifference to sexual transgressions by the political . But come to Anglo Saxons, and they do not tolerate any transgression, however trivial, at least in the politicians. Funnily, the rich are exempted. So are the royalty, and the star players like the cricketer from Australia or the basketball player from the US.. It is only when it comes to who will sit on the throne that suddenly the standards change. The latest is about the English coach. Teacher or a coach exploiting a pupil has to be viewed seriously, no doubt about it. But a coach having relationship with a secretary- how does it affect his performance in the workplace that is, the football field?
What is the reason for such psyche? Why this dichotomy? Does anybody have a
rational explanation?

Saturday, April 10, 2010

#27. Nirakh sakhi, yeh khanjan phir aaye

Painted Partridge

White wagtail


Hill mynah

Indian vulture

Peregrine falcon

Hawk cuckoo or Brainfever bird


Pariah kite

Greater flamingoes

bar-headed geese in flight

flamingoes in flight

greater adjutant stork

bar-headed geese

Bat (no bird, but a mammal)

Heeraman tota



Pied crested cuckoo

Lesser adjutant stork

(photo credit: Self, Wikipedia, birdsofbombay)

The Birds in Poetry and of Yore

When you read a poem, hear a song, go through some mythological story
Or the distress call of some environmentalist mentioning one bird or the other, are you able to picture the bird immediately? BNHS or Sanctuary does not give Hindi version every time they mention a bird, and sometimes even though you know the bird, you don’t place it properly. I faced the same problem till about a decade back. Over some time what I could learn and guess, I am sharing with you.

‘Nirakh sakhi, ye khanjan phir aaye’ (lo, my friend, these khanjans have come again). This is Sumitra during her years of separation from Lakshman when he accompanied his brother Ram during his exile. Khanjan is wagtail, mainly yellow wagtail which is a winter visitor found near water bodies.

Another bird is chatak. ‘Chatak khada chonch khole hai/samput khole seep khadi hai/main apna ghat liye khada hoon/apni apni hame padi hai’ (they are all waiting for the rains-chatak with open beak, pearl oyster opening the lips, and the poet with a pitcher). Chatak is pied crested cuckoo which is the harbinger of rains. It is sighted in northern and central parts of India just before the monsoons. It is a migrant from Africa, and it is said that monsoon winds help it to cross from one continent to the other. That is why its coming means that the rains are not far behind.

Two other birds of the same family are koel, our most famous song bird. Kokila used to be one of the more popular east Indian first names. Koel puts her eggs in in the nest of crows. Wonder what happens to the legendary cleverness of crow in this matter. The other is Papiha (brain fever bird). ‘Papiha re-e-e? mere piya se kahio jaaye’ (O papiha, please convey my message to my loved one). This bird is vocal during summer. It has a shrill cry, repeated 5-6 times, rising in crescendo. In English it sounds like ‘brain-fever-brain-fever.’ In Hindi as if ‘Pee-kahan?’ (where is my beloved). And in Marathi ‘paos aala’ (the rains have come)!

Bird sound resembling Hindi words; another example is Painted Partridge (kala teetar), a favourite of the shikaris. Its call resembles ‘subhan teri kudrat’ or ‘Ramchandra-Dash-rath’ depending on what your affinities are!

Cheel. The floating, gliding pariah kite. There is a proverb by Ghagh: ‘dhele upar cheel jo bole/gali gali main pani dole’ (if a kite gives a call perching on an unbroken round of soil, it means heavy rains). The U.P.Government at one time got research done on such weather forecasts(=indications) in the sayings of Ghagh. Most of them did not pass the test.

Associated scavenger bird is vulture (giddh). In Hindi those having keen sight or insight are called having giddh-drishti. For hunting, a vulture has to have keen eyesight. Both cheel and giddh you find hovering over a cadaver. What was Jatayu, the huge bird that tried to save Sita when she was being kidnapped by Ravan? It must be one of the larger varieties of our predators. It could be Imperial Eagle, but my best guess is Tawny Eagle, as it is more easily found in the southern part of the country.

One need not mention the ubiquitous house crow, another scavenger bird living near human habitations. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bombay has the highest crow population in the world (as Delhi of simians, both meant literally). Had Laxman painted the crow in all its moods if he was located elsewhere? Cawing of crow near the verandah is supposed to bring some guest. ‘Mori atariya pe kaga bole/mora jiya dole/koi aa raha hai’ (Crow is calling from top of the house, my heart is full of joy, someone is coming). Most birds start their song in the morning, however you can hear the crows in the night also, apart from bats which are not birds but mammals.

Vishnu’s carrier is Garuda. Location wise, adjutant stork foots the bill. A huge bird, larger than vulture, strong flier, martial in walk. Or It could also be one of the eagles.

During my childhood days the footpath booksellers invariably had a copy of ‘Kissa tota-myna’. Well, these two are the most famous mimic birds in the country. The tota here is Alexandrine parakeet (better known as Heeeraman in Hindi), and the myna here is not the abundant Indian Myna but Hill Myna (pahadi myna). Heeraman is easily the most beautiful cage bird, large, with long tail, having red patch on the shoulder, and ring on the neck. The hill myna is slightly larger than our common myna, with trade mark orange yellow wattles on the head. They say Heeraman talks best when kept alone in the cage. Hill myna is delicate, a prized cage bird before the advent of Manekaji.

Ravi Varma had made an exact replica of swan in his paintings. The hans in Hindu mythology and Sanskrit poetry is probably bar-headed goose, a winter migratory. and not the large swan we see in zoos and abroad. The neer kshir vivek rajhans which has the legendary quality of separating water from milk is according to many our own flamingo which has got colonies in Kutch. Yes, the legend is partly true. Flamingo’s bill is adapted for filter feeding. Upper bill is thin and flat which acts like a lid to the lower bill which is like a trough. Both have comb like structure which acts as a strainer. It feeds in shallow water, scrapes the muddy bottom, churned up mud is collected in the hollow beak and strained with the help of thick tongue and the comb-like structure (lamellae). Shoveller, another migratory duck, has the same quality of separating food from muck.

And lastly, the first Sanskrit poet (adi kavi) Valmiki uttered his first shlok when a hunter killed male bird of the pair of Kraunch. ‘Ma nishad pratishthatvam gatah shasti sama yatkraunch mithunadekam vadhi kamamohitam’ (You have killed one of a happy couple, may you not yourself live long). This was when he was on his way to take bath in river Tamasa. My best guess is that Kraunch is brahminy duck (surkhab). A large brown migratory duck always found in pair, and sometimes in a flock. Seems it has been a favourite hunting bird for ages. Edible quality of a meat depends on what it eats. Ask a lion or tiger. They always go for herbivores, and not touch other carnivores like jackals. That way, the cannibals had very poor taste!

Friday, April 9, 2010


(This series of 3-4 collections of my reminiscences I had written some time back. I thought bringing it to Blogs will bring it more permanency than keeping them in the hard disk where they might get corrupted. Hope you will like them.)

Some Insights

I had my school education in a town in U.P. which had a sizeable Muslim population. A number of students in the school were Muslim. While going to the loo, a number of them picked up a clay ball or a small piece of soft stone with absorbent quality. Some of my classmates used to sneer at this practice. Later when I was in a district with significant Muslim population, the Mayor told me that clogging of public toilets was one of the problems they faced in their upkeep, primarily because of this reason. This practice has obviously come from the dry parched Arab countries. If you have come out of the dry summer heat of noon time in the northern part of the country where you had profuse perspiration, you will know the rationale behind it. In the loo the urine will have a dark yellowish colour. Now in the white apparel of the Arabs, the stain would be very visible. The chances of getting the stain is more with circumcision. Incidentally circumcision also has the same hygienic reason in a desert country.
The same is the explantion for the practice of wajoo which the Muslims do before namaz. The shape of the vessel used (which is called gadua) with long, narrow and curved outlet stem ensures that minimum water is used.
* * * * * *
It was only a few decades back that joint families existed, warts and all. In large houses there used to be a room well inside which was used by the new mothers. This was used by the number of daughters-in-law and daughters who came to parental home for delivery. It used to be occupied as such for major part of the year. In Hindi it was called sauri. Not many members were allowed in, only those who were really needed. Men were especially excluded. Also at least for six days mother and the new-born were untouchables. In retrospect I realise that it was the ancient version of a sterile ward. Excluding men who had to go out and could easily be the carriers of infection is also understandable.
One looked forward to all the sweets made of dry fruits and gum which were made for the new mother. A simple case of heavy protein supplementation for the mother to recoup the loss.
The reason behind isolating the lady having period and not allowing her to participate in the daily domestic chores in a joint family is only to give rest to the lady during that period. Although the poor ladies of yore hardly had any of these after she weaned away one child and became pregnant again. Remember Taj Biwi?
* * * * *
During my school days, much was made of the foolish Indian farmer who instead of using cow dung as manure used it as fuel, especially slow fire for warmth during the winter, and in the kitchen for various purposes. Typical colonial mentality! The dried cowdung cake used a lot of agricultural waste which was utilised for good purpose. And nobody gives credit to the poor Indian farmer for the amount of wood, forest and bio-diversity saved by using this simple substitute for fuel wood.
* * * * *
Ho Chi Minh had once started a movement in his country which he named ‘Eat well-cooked food and drink boiled water.’ With a typical Keralite food, the water you get is warm and has a lot of herbs in it. It is yellowish in colour. And Keralites have the lowest death rate in the country.
Marriages in my part of the country were performed mostly during summer. A custom of a typically agrarian society. Marriages were solemnised after the harvesting season was over: people had money and spare time. At the bride’s place there were two types of feasts; kachcha khana and pucca khana. The latter was for large gathering- it consisted of puri, kachaudi and boiled spicy vegetables which had been on the fire for some time. A very scientific way of saving the food from infection. The kachcha khana was for a limited number of people- people who had come in the marriage procession of the groom- a much smaller number. It was also called bhatwaan as rice and dal were served- the food was more homely and mainly cooked by ladies of the household..
And now medical scientists have discovered that fresh coriander leaves have a lot of disinfectant qualities- particularly effective against salmonella- the main cause of food poisoning all over the world. Remember that the grandmother used coriander leaves in all the curries including dal. Agreed that she thought that it was mainly for fragrance and garnishing. But were our ancestors aware of its medical qualities as well?
Another custom for which I haven’t been able to find a solid reason is bathing with warm water even during summer. This practice is prevalent in entire Goa and probably most part of the Konkan coastal region. I can think of only that it is used to soften the hard water. Another reason could be that in the coastal region this could be one of the ways to save you from arthritis. My osteo-arthritis flared up after spending my 2-year tenure in Mumbai, after that I had to go for a knee transplant.
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In the north, especially in eastern U.P. and Bihar, swings are tied on trees only during the rainy season: sawan ke jhoole pade. And swings at home are most prevalent in the coastal regions of the country. You need breeze to dry out your sweat during hot and humid climate of these areas and during the rainy season in northern India, and it is easier to be get it on a swing than to wave a hand fan.
I probably don’t have to explain the reason behind the immersion of Durga, Kali, Saraswati and Ganesh idols after 10 days. Thousands are spent on the idols. Well, where do you keep them after the festivities are over? The practice adopted is the simplest solution.
** ** ** ** ** **
Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise. You don’t hear it anymore: children burn the midnight oil, especially during the exam time. Those days it was the best way to utilise to the maximum the light of the day for working. In my village where I used to go during summer vacations which included the beginning of the monsoons, the ploughmen started their work at dawn, and had a siesta during the hottest part of the day. So is the case with the labourers who do the earthwork on the road and the rural tanks both new and for desilting.
** ** ** ** ** **

Westerners use toilet paper (where are the environmentalists?), and look down upon the Indians who use water. However, Indians use left hand for it , whereas for all other functions, especially eating, they use right hand. An excellent way not to allow E-coli to pass into your food. That could be the reason why left-handedness was frowned upon earlier. You may not find any epic warrior or archer of Ancient India who was a lefty. You have started seeing lefties only now, probably due to western influence, and it is mostly fond in the upper bracket of the society. In the lower strata you hardly come across one.
When I was at Bastar for 2 years, I was told that hill abujhmarias, a primitive tribe living in the hills who are opening up to civilization only now did not wash after defecating. And probably the first thing that our extension officers taught them was to clean their b***** after the act. I understood the reason much later when I had already moved out of Bastar. Being a dry hilly area, they had very few sources of water, small natural ponds and pools being the main source. And they did not want to pollute that water.
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India must be having the largest number of vegans in the world. Europeans are mostly non-vegetarian. So are the tribals of India, and natives of Africa and South America who live in or very near the forests. In a cold European country with snow and ice for many months, there is no alternative to eating flesh. And the fertile river valleys of India are so full of edible greens. They say that Air India survives because they only know what true Indian vegetarianism is. Hats off to Gujaratis! And see how Bengal criss-crossed by rivers and dotted with village ponds have Brahmins eating fish. Tell it to Namboodiris, Aiyars and Ayangars! God’s own country is lush green. And they have a large number of meat-eating population which means in this case fish–eating. You are enchanted even when your plane is losing height to land. And they have plenty of root crop also (tapioca).
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“Nilambuj shyamal komalangam, sitasamaropit vambhagam” and “gore nand, jasoda gori, tum kat syam sarir”. Two most important deities of Hindus Ram and Krishna are depicted as dark-skinned. Krishna is even called Ghanshyam: dark as black cloud. And I am not aware of any Siva stuti which mentions him as light-skinned. Both Sita and Radha are light-skinned. Were the most important deities of Hindu religion shown as dark-skinned so that they are more acceptable to the Dravidians? My guess is yes.
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Yagyopavit used be one of the important rites in the life cycle of a man of high caste in India. One of the photographs that Jawaharlal Nehru included in his autobiography was of the occasion of his yagyopavit. I think this was a crossover from the stage when you switch to wearing clothes than remaining nude. Lifting the sacred thread at the time of going to the loo is symbolic of removing clothes when you go for the act of little finger or more (compare it to the Muslim habit of carrying an absorbent stone to the urinal- both have hygienic reason behind them).
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There is no English equivalent for the Hindi word ‘jootha’. Hindu hygiene generally demands that you should avoid drinking or eating out of the vessel which has been touched by the mouth or lips of somebody else. South Indians go to the further extreme of drinking without touching the vessel containing the liquid. And for eating, to the extent possible use disposable banana leaves. Have you seen the typical metal coffee cup (now mainly steel) which has edges which curve outside? You drink coffee by tilting your slightly upwards. You can see English westerns where those adventurers and the heroes drank out of the same bottle without even wiping the neck. Muslims have the tradition of eating out of the same plate. You might have looked cynically at this practice, but can you say the same after AIDS has been discovered?
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For a normal man (or woman) who is slightly overweight, who likes his food, has a sweet tooth, and isn’t in the habit of regular exercises, although he does walk for miles and hours when on trips or tours, age knocks on his door gently. First at the age of forty, your doctor tells you that you suffer from hypertension. You start taking some mild drug for it. And start doing some sort of exercise. At forty five you start having backache and the doctor tells you some exercises which strengthen the back and abdominal muscles so that your spine has to take lesser load. Same for reducing weight which he says is the root cause of all the evil. At fifty you have hit your shin against your bed and you find that the wound is not healing on its own as it used to do earlier. You again go to the doctor and he asks you to go for some blood test, and you are diagnosed with what they fondly call adult onset diabetes (Type II). You have to regulate your diet and possibly take some oral medicine. The gastronomic delights are gone for ever. Reduce weight. Well, life goes on. At the age of 58 or 59 you suddenly discover that while waking your knees pain a little bit. You don’t care. Go to hell, how many medicines you keep on adding to your daily diet? I forgot, in the meantime you started taking a regular dose of some vitamin and beta carotene. Well, you can’t hide away form your bodily degeneration. The knee pain worsens, and the doctor first says it is wear and tear, but later say that it is osteo-arthritis. If you are bold and adventurous you go for a knee surgery. And then the doctor advised you to do some exercises to strengthen your thigh muscles so that your knees take less load. And advise you that if you use a walking stick, it will save your good knee for some time. And I will not mention the unmentionable fact of falling testosterone level. And at the ripe old age of 60, wisdom dawns on you. Regular exercise, strengthening back muscles, strengthening thigh muscles, regulated diet, no excesses. Why did somebody not tell you these things in your formative years? When probably you could have taken steps to see that these things never happened. And didn’t our father and grandfather started using the walking stick at forty?
Let us admit, man was not supposed to live beyond the age of 60 at the max. It is the modern medicine which is keeping us alive beyond that age, but at a cost, and at a much reduced level of activity. Good old days we had four ashrams in life, brahmacharya, grihastha, vanprastha and sanyas. The third stage meant that you lived like a hermit even while living in the joint family. And if you are unlucky to go beyond the age of 75, God help you. You were supposed to leave the domestic bliss, and live in the forests and wait fo the day when the yamadoots appear to take you away.
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Are you aware of Sharda Act? That your daughter cannot be married before the age of 18? Well bring it to the typical Indian rural context. The daughter is married as soon as she attains puberty. That could be 15-16. She might be married even at an earlier age, and then there is gauna which is distressingly being called second marriage. It is when after a few years she finally goes to her father-in-law’s place. In the lonely environs of the village when men are working in the fields, and where the womenfolk have to go to the sugarcane or arhar fields to ease themselves, the problem of keeping the chastity of the unmarried daughter secure is a real problem for the parents. And especially when the (unbroken) hymen is embedded so deeply in the minds of the Indian male.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

@25. The Story of Vishwapratap

Those Were the (Ugly) Days
This story was told to me by my great grandmother (Mother of my maternal grandfather). So the basic facts of the story are probably true. However, if a story is repeated a hundred times, there come a lot of embellishments and exaggerations. The story teller keeps on refining his or her narration with every repetition. Add to it that at many paces I have used my imagination where there was a factual gap. Also part of the story I heard from so many other sources.
Ek tha Raja. Well, not exactly a raja. He was the younger son of a minor Prince who ruled over an area which is now in Jharkhand. He had two sons, and the younger one is whom we are describing here. The story of the birth of the two brothers is equally interesting, so it is worth diverting for some moments from the main story.
The prince was childless. I don’t know why the ruling prices of so many States in India were sterile or impotent. Scindias of Gwalior had a long tradition of adopted sons ascending the throne, and the story is repeated at so many big and small states in India. Well, the Prince was getting on in age, and his brother realising that his son willl inherit the throne started treating the Prince lightly, and interfering in the affairs of the state which of course the Prince did not like. With the advice of his Senior Maharani he searched among his minions, and found that wives of two of them were carrying, one was a Kshatriya, a minister of his, and the other was his barber. He had a pact with them, and declared that two of his wives were pregnant. His brother did not believe him, and arranged for the check-up of the two queens by a lady doctor (a lady gynaecologist) who was given a bagful of money to toe the line of the Prince. Ultimately, the two ladies deliverd, at the interval of a few hours. Barber’s wife who was attached to the younger Maharani delivered first, and the high-caste Rajput lady attached to the Senior Maharani delivered later. The barber’s son inherited the throne, and the younger one known as the Maharajkumar was given a few hundred villages for his maintenance, as was the tradition in the family. After some time his mother persuaded him to leave the palace of his elder brother, and built up a garhi about 50-60 kms away and lived there with as much pomp and show as his brother.
In time he married. The girl’s father had two more daughters and he requested the Maharajkumar (Vishwapratap) that he should take them as well as his wives, and he happily obliged. So far, so good.. Vishwapratap had a number of sons most of whom were cross-eyed, a trait inherited from Vishwapratap. There was no doubt about the paternity! Apart from this defect, Vishwapraatp was tall, fair, handsome young man with light grey eyes which none of his sons inherited, unfortunately.
But the ruling princes, and even minor princes and zamindars of those days were not satisfied with legal wives, whatever their number. Remember ‘Saheb, Biwi aur Ghulam’? They had concubines, apart from casual one night prostitutes. Concubines or keeps was the accepted practice even during my childhood days. Many big zamindars had two families, one legal and the other of the concubine, and the offsprings of the latter were more or less accepted in the society, though considered inferior to the true-blood nobility. I remember some of these zamindars having a foray in politics, and the fact of their having two families never came in the way of their success in the election, and if they lost, this was certainly not the factor which affected them negatively. Similarly, the e professional prostitutes also had children, the parentage of some of them known, and of some not known. They certainly enjoyed a lower status in the society. In the area where I was brought up, they were known ‘bhaduas’, a derogatory term not used in their presence. I remember once one such boy tried to be friends with me, and I responded favourably, innocent of all the nuances of the society during those days. One day A Brahman friend of mine scolded me and advised me to keep away form such scum of society. Why go so far to the middle of the last century when not many years ago, when a French President died, there were two families of his present at the cremation. Today we have Heads and Chief Executives of countries who merrily divorce and then marry a model, and one hears all the juicy stories about the doings of the First Lady. In nature, there are several species that are polygamous- black buck and baya weaver immediately come to mind. In the olden days the mortality among men was much more than for women. Nobody has mentioned what happened to the widows of 18 akshauhini of the army of the Mahabaharat battle who perished. Many could have been sati, but the lot remained back in the society. Ravan’s wife was taken over by his brother Vibhishan when he ascended. Sugriva’s wife who was forcibly taken away by Bali and when he was killed by Ram she returned to the original husband. Anyway Vishwapratap came to know of a beautiful Brahman girl who had just attained puberty and was staying with her father and younger sister, the mother had passed away a few years back, and the father had not remarried. It was out of question to persuade the father to marry her off to the Maharajkumar. It was an inconceivable match, Brahman girl marrying a Kshatriya several years her senior. So Viswapratap waited for a suitable opportunity, and such opportunity presented itself soon enough. He came to know that the father had gone to an adjacent town for a few days probably to search for a suitable match for the elder daughter, and the daughters were alone in the house. He sent one of his trusted Brahman minions who went to the girls and told them that their father had called them over to the town he had gone to. Naturally it had to be both the girls, otherwise it would have brought suspicion. The girls were thrilled at the prospect of journey by train and visit to a nearby town (it was the beginning of the twentieth century). And so the two young ladies landed at Vishwapratap’s place. The story was sad, as it had to be. Women were no better than cattle those days, and even a great religious poet Tulsidas considered them deserving a beating. The elder sister did not take food for a few days, but ultimately she realized that it was not possible for her to get out of this prison. Vidhwapratap had some some sort of ceremony performed and took both the girls as his wives. What my great grandmother used to tell that every night when Vishwapratap went to see the elder sister, at the time of leaving would ask her whether she still wanted to go back to her father. And till the end she said the same yes. An enraged Vishwapratap responded with beating her, and the story was repeated on and on. The The elder sisiter had a son who unfortunately did not survive long. Maybe he did not get enough care and attention from his mother. The younger one had a son who survived. His father arranged for his proper education, and engaged an English tutor for him, the best that could be given those days. More about him later.
The story of Vishwapratap did not end happily. Some mineral was discovered in the villages which were given to him for maintenance. When the elder brother came to know of it, he laid claim over it, and both the brothers fought a bitter legal battle over the rights to it. Vishwapratap won from the High Court, and the Prince took it to the Privy Council for final appeal. This meant engaging an expensive lawyer, and sending him by ship to England which cost money. The lawyer had to be away from his regular legal practice for months together foregoing his earnings for the period, and had to be adequately compensated. Vishwapratap lost the case in the House of Lords, and went almost bankrupt, and his estate came under court of wards which gave him limited allowance.
I was told that when Vishwapraaatap won the case in the State High Court, he was advised by his senior lawyer to go for a compromise with his brother, and as he was the winner of this round, the lawyer was confident that the elder brother would come round for an agreement. Vishwapratap reacted in his typical thakuraiti style by being thoroughly enraged, so much so that he e asked the lawyer to make himself scarce in his presence. Had he agreed to the advice given by his lawyer, the story would have been different.
The father of the two hapless girls came home and found the house locked, and the daughters missing. By and by he came to know of the full story. He fretted and fumed, shed the tear of the weak and helpless, but could not do much beyond the impotent rage which he felt. He also knew that even if he was able to rescue the girls, it was impossible to find a match for them, and so he spent the rest of his life ruing the day he left the two daughters on their own.
I don’t know how Vishwapratap’s end came. These princelings never enjoyed long life due to their style of living, and he died not at a ripe old age. The eldest son of Vishwapratap inherited the villages after the death of his father, and the other brothers got some villages for their maintencance in accordance with their chronological hierarchy. The Younger sister’s son (Durga Prasad) got 3 villages. I heard weird stories about the cruelty and barbaric ways of this son. He was reportedly given tigress milk to make him fearless and bold. I did not believe it, and questioned the storyteller as to how the tigress milk could be procured. I was given a plausible explanation. I was told that sometimes the tigress while suckling her cubs chose a large stony place. Some milk got spilled, and this was later collected (or scraped) by the tribals in a dona (leaf cup) and brought to the Maharajkumar for his children. Both the mothers were living with Durga Prasad. The elder sister did not live very long. Probably died in her fifties, pining away for her native place. Durga Prasad got married to the daughter of a reputed lawyer, who unfortunately bore him only one daughter. Out of frustration he regularly beat her, and his mother as well, stripped and put red ants over their naked body, including the most delicate parts and turned them out of the house regularly. The poor ladies had to wrap themselves in gunny cloth with the covert help of the domestic help, and lived in the forest till they were rescued after Durga Prasd relented. He also regularly beat up his tenants, for some reason or the other, he had to find an excuse.
Durga Prasad’s story goes even further. Once his wife went to her father’s place. Her brother had to go to jail for a few years during the independence movement, leaving behind four young daughters. Durga Prasad repeatedly called his wife back, but she was not keen to leave the young nieces, and kept on procrastinating. Durga Prasad was wild with fury, and married a local girl of 14 when he was 40. In his hasty decision, desire for getting a son must have been in his mind. Children he did get from his second wife, not one, not two, but five. And all were daughters. Man proposes and God disposes. But he did marry off all his daughters one by one during his lifetime, though the matches were not upto his status. Give credit to the old tradition and sense of duty of Rajputs! The land was there to sell off to pay for the marriages. He passed away, old and diabetic, and if not in penury, in not very happy circumstances.
I do not guarantee that the story teller was entirely correct in her narration, but the basic facts cannot be denied. Why I penned this down is because there are very few people left of those olden days who had the opportunity to see and hear those incidents and who have the will and desire to tell it for the present generation of IT and mobile phones.