The cigarette smoker and the scene at Gaya – Jules Verne

A few days ago, in the 21st century: At the paan vendor’s kiosk, the poor man in plain clothes puffed on the cigarette as he looked at his friend with fixed eyes. The smoke had done its work, with his mind ready to take off at a tangent. But not for him. Raising the hand that held the cigarette, he pointed the burning end at his friend. “I will leave this… I will quit smoking… once I go to Gaya. Only once, let me come back, and that will be it,” he said, shaking the pointed end like a dart player prepares for a throw. The determination on his face supported his words. What is it about Gaya that excited the man, and held him in such awe and binding obligation? The tradition, the sentiment, the stories he heard in childhood, the grandmother’s undying belief in its sacredness? Could such a man live his life without this simple faith? Bereft of this only...
Read More

Cheap tech gadgets: can they ‘make a difference’?

Technology at its best (Photo credit: Manuel Alarcón) When there is grinding poverty all around, and you flash a  >$500 phone or tablet, the lines of embarrassment steal their way to your face when someone poor inquires about the price. The old game of showing off costly gadgets still goes on in friend circles, neighbourhoods and offices. And never was the scene so hotted up than after the coming of IT gadgets. Surely the prices are coming down as competition makes it way, and we can buy tablets under this budget. But the craze for the ‘latest’ and ‘the best’ continues unabated. The demand is maddening and most casual conversations around us are filled up with the new magic tricks of technology. If everyone was not doing it, we would have thought that the big guys playing silly sling games had not outgrown the child within and needed treatment. Crossing ten levels on Angry Birds by moving your fingers won’t make any difference...
Read More

India, politics and violence

Nehru was an educated politician If there is one thing that has vitiated our lives and minds in this country, more than any other, it is the communion of violence and politics.  It probably began in the 70s. Not that the mass media (bollywood) was clean, or that the Emergency was a peaceful affair. I was born in that year, so my generation can be called the Emergency generation.  But as one corporate czar observed long time ago, as long as Nehru was alive, there was a semblance of unity. After him, it was the era of the regional parties that broke the short lived post-independence harmony. When religion enters the scene, and it did so in a big way in the 90s, it too relies on the power of brawn – how peaceful can we then consider it? Except for the famous chant, it does nothing much to educate us in non-violent ways. It won’t be an overstatement to say that for many,...
Read More

I sympathise with your India experience, O foreign tourist

My first backpack visit to Rajasthan several years ago brought about a revelation. In my own country, and in my own state, I was being perceived as a foreigner. The culprit was my relatively fair skin and brownish eyes which,  coupled with a city-bred look, somehow set me apart in the eyes of the locals. I felt excited with the new found status. Now I could travel with double the self-esteem, or like a born Rajah! What did I know. The first to fall for the deception were the kids who went with the camel rider at Jaiselmer. They gladly took me to their house. Then, agents would single me out from the crowd. At Jodhpur, when I spoke in Hindi at the fort, the man, instead of replying to me, reacted with, “He speaks Hindi!” And how can I forget the hearty laughter let out by the traditionally dressed guard at the Jaiselmer fort, when he learnt that the gentleman standing...
Read More

Review: End of Nana Sahib by Jules Verne

It indeed comes as a surprise that the classic sci-fi writer Jules Verne should have written a story centered around a political figure  of the mutiny of 1857 in India.  Nana Sahib was a much wanted man after the mutiny, and could never be found. The story is made interesting by its other major thread – the steam powered elephant chugging along two full houses to traverse the route from Kolkata to the base of the Nepal hills. The Frenchman Maucler, an adventurer, Colonel Munro, engineer Banks, Captain Hooks who is obsessed with hunting, and three of their subordinates thus take us along their intrepid journey through historical Indian cities of Gaya, Benares, Allahabad, Kanpur and Lucknow. The prime mover of the plot is the strange connection between Colonel Munro and Nana Sahib. It was Munro who killed the Rani of Jhansi, the friend of Nana Sahib. And it was Nana Sahib who was involved in the killing of Munro’s wife at...
Read More

The End of Nana Sahib

It came as a shocker — a book by this name, from none other than Jules Verne!! This is going to be my next read, and the book is on the way. Who was Nana Sahib? More intriguing is — what happened to him? He disappeared in 1857 after playing a prominent role in the battles. Some said he had fled to Nepal, and there were rumours that he had escaped to Constantinople. Many people turned up claiming to be Nana Sahib. As it happens in India, no one knows for sure. And no one knows what happened on that fateful day on the ghat of the Ganga in Kanpur. I went and saw the graves of the soldiers at the All Souls Church. And spent a  harrowing 3 hrs walking around the army camp in search of that ill fated well where the British ladies and children had been dumped. I couldn’t locate it, but then exhausted I walked into...
Read More

Why India has more temples than toilets

‘There are temples everywhere!’ beamed a visiting professor of history a long time ago. He was referring in particular to his visit to the south of India. That may be the case. For the countryside people across the subcontinent, the whole of nature is a nourishing shade to relax and unload. Morning and evening, alone or in groups. It’s a matter of cultural convenience at work. Nor could the eco-friendly benefits of the practice to the performer and recipient be denied. It is sustainable, to the highest degree imaginable. And they do it behind the bushes, not over the Taj Mahal. What makes it a practice to look down upon, and denigrate the country itself, is the association with poverty. But we know it has nothing to do with lack of money. Since all noble Indian cultural practices have mythological stories associated with them, I wonder what story goes with this practice. Which sage’s wrath, or the wrongdoing of a king, denies two...
Read More

In line with the world

(Photo credit: Wikipedia) It is the basic principle of misbegotten people that they do not lend support to those who don’t follow the ‘line’, which is basically the way ‘everyone’ behaves and lives. So no surprises when those who fall out of line do not get calls or friendly visits. But the day you are ‘back’, is the day when surprise visits and calls inundate you. You then belong to the nasty world. Simple methods govern rules of interaction. Yet, truth is always deeper than we can reach. Look underneath the surface of the world, and see how petty divisions rule lives, and how very happy you are who has left it all behind to live a cleaner life, to follow your own line. ...
Read More