Thursday, May 15, 2014

Outsourcing Change

The title of this blog is borrowed from a status update of my friend Sameer Shisodia. This is probably the most pertinent phrase on the eve of the election results. Sameer in his post said 
"So - now the wait begins to bring in "change" and outsource our responsibilities, hopes and duties to a an all new central figure who is expected to change and fix everything without us having to move a finger, give up on our greed and needs, change nothing at our end and put in no extra effort " # Democrazy?

I cannot agree more to his words. As someone who had responded to his update said "Govt change karne se kya hoga? We are like this only. We will not wait in line. We will put our trash on the road. We will drive on the wrong side of the road. We will always hurry but never reach on time. We will always find someone else to fault. Govt change karne se kya hoga jab hum khudh change nahi honge". 

I am writing this post out of sheer disgust, frustration and helplessness. People blame everything but for themselves for all ills in the society. People's social attitude is becoming worse. Aggression seems to be the new norm on the roads. Disrespect for rules and insensitivity for others has become a matter of routine. 

I will just pick up an incident i was involved in today. I have been living in south Bangalore all my life and have seen it grow (worse) leaps and bounds. Vidhyarthi Bhavan (VB), located in Gandhi Bazaar is any day my hot favourite for its yummy dosa and awesome coffee.

Today evening, myself, my wife and our little Krishna drove to Gandhi Bazaar for that amazing dosa at VB. As i was crossing the road holding my 8 month old baby Krishna, a man aged around 40 riding a two wheeler with three people on it almost ran into me speaking on his cell phone (No helmet of course). When i gave him a glare, he yelled "Chal re". It was clearly his mistake. Without any debate, we moved on. 

After the yummy dosa and coffee at Vidhyarthi Bhavan, we were accompanied out by a lady (may be 35 to 38 years old), her two kids, her secretary (or PA or some assistant). A sedan car stopped outside VB and her assistant opened the back door for her. All of them got into the car. We just moved a few steps to cross the road and couple of empty boxes of sweets and a plastic cover came flying out of the car. A box fell on my feet as well. I got furious and asked the driver and the lady on the car if this is what they were teaching their kids. The reply was in Kannada and the madam's driver very rudely said "ಇವಾಗ ಏನು? ಸುಮ್ಮನೆ ಹೋಗಿ “It means "I threw, so what now? You just go". 

They did not even bother to apologize. They were from an upper middle class family. When i picked up the box and the cover from the road, they did not even react. I am sure they were not embarrassed. They just drove off. 

Other than picking those boxes from the road and throwing in the dustbin, i could not do anything much. It is unfortunate, but i guess this is how we live.

At this rate, it is dangerous to think of the future. Discipline in public seems to be totally absent. If this is our attitude, no leader will be able to change anything. Discipline and change must come from within.

As sameer put it very beautifully, we only want to "Outsource" change. But the inconvenient truth is, there is no messiah with a magic wand who will change the things overnight.

PS: The Bangalore i lived in my childhood or for that matter even during my engineering days was not this rude or insensitive.  Society has become abusive and aggressive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Question of freedom..

Few years back i watched this amazing play called “Ambedkar aur Gandhi”. It is a Hindi play directed by Arvind Gaur and performed by the highly talented theatre group “ASMITA”. Much has been written about this play. The play is not free from controversy. The director claims that every word in the script is recorded in history. However some critics doubt it.

Nevertheless, i watched this play again at “Sriram Theater”, New Delhi last week. It has a very powerful script. The play was so intense that by the time the play was over, though this was the second time i was watching this play, i had goose bumps on my skin.

I have already written about this play. I will not repeat it now. But like last time, i had a chance to talk to the director after the play.

Arvind Gaur is a very humble man. Short man of about five and a half feet, Arvind is full of energy and is totally dedicated to his work. He believes in theatre as a mode of social change. His Theater “Asmita” consists of more than 50 people.

The play that they were performing is on Socio-political history. “Ambedkar aur Gandhi” is a play on the delicate relationship between Gandhi and Ambedkar set in the backdrop of second round table conference on the issue of separate electorate for the schedule castes. As such, the most powerful character in the play is that of Dr Ambedkar. Performed by the brilliant young artist Bajrang Bali Singh, his role as Ambedkar can move any audience.

Arvind Gaur.
But Arvind and Asmita group have their share of problems in staging this play. They have to give an affidavit before every performance that there would not be any violence after the play. Not only in Delhi, but anywhere in india, the group runs into the bureaucracy before their performance. Arvind says, such highly talented and dedicated artists have to bend at the mercy of the line of bureaucracy right from the beat policeman till the DCP before every performance.

True, the play is controversial. It is very very critical of Gandhi. In my opinion, the play shows Gandhi more hypocritical than he was (perhaps). In more than one instance in the play, Ambedkar makes sarcastic remarks of Gandhi being a  “Mahathma”.

But at the end of the day, it is a piece of literature. It is art. The theater group has put the source of the script in public. Every dialogue, they claim, is recorded in history.

Afterall, the play is about the great man who drafted our constitution. Ambedkar stood for equality and freedom of speech.  This play was banned in Gujrat for many years. To perform this play anywhere in india, the group has to take permission from the police. Not only that, they have to give an affidavit.  Is this not restriction of “Freedom of Speech” ?
In our society, politicians can make dangerous hate speeches but a common man with rich social and cultural values cannot easily perform a historical play.

I will sign off by quoting a few lines of Dr Ambedkar (in constituent assembly) ;
On 26 January, 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics, we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle on one man one value.. ”

PS : Posting this from the “Bangalore Rajadhani Express” somewhere in Andhra Pradesh.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Another Happy Man.

A couple of years back i had written about the happy man, Vijaykumar whom i met in Malahalli falls of western ghats. Since then i have met myriad men and women from different walks but not another one like Vijay Kumar.

August 2013 was a difficult month for our family. Life had taken one complete circle and i was engrossed in a strange philosophical thought (and conflict).  I left to Delhi on the 12 of September for a break of 10 days. It was a much needed break for me. 

Delhi is a nice place but for the climate. For foodies like me, it is a treat. I had some program in the krishna mutta for 2 days. Other than that i was by and large free. I watched the superb kannada movie "Lucia" with a couple of friends in Gurgaon.  

One day i decided to go to east Delhi.  East Delhi is a pretty clumsy place. Its about an hour ride in the metro train from Safdarjung enclave where i was staying. I decided to brave the Metro rush at Rajiv chowk and take the ride to 'Shahdara'. My plan was to visit the Metro mall (b2b store) there. 

Shahdara turned out to be a nightmare. It was a buzzing place with people all over the place. It was raining very heavily. There was no shelter outside the station and i was completely drenched. The place outside the station was flooded and there was no auto rickshaw in sight. 
There were many cycle rickshaws waiting outside the station. I was not in a mood to take the cycle rickshaw ride. But i was not in a mood to return home either. Having come all the way braving the metro train rush, i had to visit the shopping mall. Finally i made the bold effort of hiring a cycle rickshaw. But to my surprise, none of the rickshaw pullers knew the Metro mall. When i had almost decided to get back, an old man (may be late 50s or early 60s) said he would take me in his rickshaw. 

Cycle Rickshaw ride in the horrible roads of east Delhi
This was my second ride in a cycle rickshaw in the last year. My last ride was in Chandini chowk last September. 

I did not ask my rickshaw puller the cost of the ride. As the rain stopped ; my rickshaw was pulled into the winding roads of Shahdara. 
5 minutes into the ride, it started pouring heavily. My rickshaw puller had no rain gear (neither did i). Rains did not deter him. He was pedalling and totally drenched. At that time i asked him to stop. He did stop beneath the bridge. He requested if we could proceed since he was losing his business hours. I insisted that we stay (i was partially covered) till the rain stopped. He reluctantly obliged. We stopped for 10 minutes. I asked him his name. His name was Bisham (or something like that). He was from Delhi and was pulling the cycle rickshaw for close to 35 years. He was thin and energetic. 

The rain stopped and we continued the bumpy ride. The roads were flooded and stuffed. Cycles, pedestrians, Hawkers, motorists and cars were all moving in an mayhem  The road was hardy 10 feet wide and full of hawkers. There was no discipline or order. Bisham's Rickshaw was quite old and brakes had worn out. I could hear him shout 'Baju' ! 'Baju'! . 

After a 40 minute roller coaster ride i reached my destination. It was an effort getting there. But it was a greater effort for Bisham to get me there (It is after all not easy to pedal a 100 kg load as your pillion). 

Bisham had pedaled me for about 40 minutes in pouring rain. The distance was about 3 kms. I asked Bisham the hire charges and he said it was 40 rupees. I thought 40 rupees was quite cheap for the effort he had made. However i made the payment and asked him to wait, if he could ;for about 30 minutes for my return, so that i can be dropped back to the station. There was no obligation though since i had paid the hire charges. 

The shopping went on for more than an hour. I came out of the mall after about 90 minutes of shopping. It was drizzling. To my surprise, i found Bisham waiting for me. 

We started our return journey in the narrow, bumpy, crowded, flooded roads of shahdara. 10 minutes into the ride, it started pouring heavily. We got completely drenched in no time. Bisham stopped beneath a tarpaulin for about 15 minutes. We resumed the bumpy ride to reach the station. 

I was quite sure that Bisham would ask me a higher hire charges. I gave him a 100 rupee note. He put it inside his pocket and gave me six 10 rupee notes back. I was surprised. I asked him if there was no extra charge for waiting and higher effort. He just said "Nahi saab" (No sir). When i offered him fifty rupees extra, he refused it. When i insisted, he took 20 rupees. 

Its painful to see an old man working this hard (80 or 100 rupees for 3 hours of really hard work). But this man looked very contented  Though he hardly spoke to me, one could make out that he is a satisfied man. 

How i wish some of the auto drivers in Bangalore could take a leaf out of Bisham's book. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Veturi Prabhakara Sastry (Rao)

Talapaka Annamacharya is a well known composer. He is sung in almost all Carnatic classical concerts. He was a saint and scholar who lived 600 years ago (May 9, 1408 – February 23, 1503). 

Below is a story of Sri Annamacharya which was narrated by Prince of Travancore Rama Varma in a concert. I have tried to reproduce the story here in verbatim.

Veturi Prabhakara Rao
Annamacharya lived in Tirupathi and was a great devotee of Lord Venkateshwara. He and Purandaradasa lived in the same time around 600 years ago. His compositions were popular all over south india at that time but later they disappeared. 
In 1940s there was a gentleman living in Tirupathi who was a great devotee of lord Venkateshwara called Veturi Prabhakara Rao (Sastry). As he was doing pradakshina of Venkateshwara temple in Tirupathi, there was a statue of Annamacharya. Each time he passed the statue, he would feel a strange feeling, he could never explain what it was. But he noticed that he felt that strange feeling when he passed that particular point (Annamacharya's statue).  
He was a gigantic person. He went and touched the statue of Annamacharya and it was moving. So he removed that and found one very small hole (This is in 1940s). Though he was a big man, he managed to squeeze inside and there was a room with hundreds and hundreds of copper plates with lyrics of Annamacharya songs engraved on them. 

The first ten pieces from these copper plates were handed over to Padhma Vibhushana Dr Magalampalli Balamurali Krishna and the first song he tuned was "Narayanathe Namo Namo" in the raga Behag. 

It is said that this song was discovered in 1940s but the amazing thing is that in Trivandrum Navaratri Mandapam, Everyday before the concert at 6 O clock, there is a singing of Thodaya Mangalam by many musicians and they sing Narayanathe namo namo. They have been singing this for hundreds of years. It is in a different raga. Though only Swathi krithis are sung at the Navarathri Mandapam, this composition is officially credited to Annamacharya. 

Monday, May 13, 2013


Kapila Venu.. 
At more than 2000 years old, Kudiyattam , the Sanskrit theater from Kerala is the oldest form of theater in the world. It has a highly stylized and complex theater language replete with elaborate traditional hand gestures and facial expressions. In 2001, UNESCO declared Kudiyattam as "masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity" 

Kudiyattam is performed mainly by the descendants of the chakyar community. There are really a very few performers of this highly nuanced theater form. In an exemplary move to propagate the art, it is now being thought to any student keen on learning it. 

My first acquaintance with kudiyattam was at Rangashankara theater festival 2010. The theme of that year's festival was classical forms of theater. It featured Katahkali, theyam theyam, Kudiyattam, our own yakshagana apart from classical forms of theater from Maharashtra , Manipur and Assam. I attended almost all the performances. But what impressed me most was Kudiyattam. Ever since, i have been attending the kudiyattam performances in Bangalore. I also got a chance to interact with a kudiyattam guru Dr Margi Madhu last year in Bangalore. I also plan to visit the kudiyattam school in Cochin run by Dr Margi Madhu. 

Normally, mythological stories are enacted in the Kudiyattam form in some temples of Kerala. Performances run for over 12 hours. 

Mizhavu Drum 
The performance starts from the traditional sounding of the  Mizhavu drum. (The Mizhavu drum is treated like a Brahmin boy. It goes through all the Brahmanical samskaras like Namakarana, Annaprashana, Upanayana and finally Shava Samskara when the drum cracks). 
The magical sound of this copper drum brings in a kind of vibration in the auditorium. The drum beats are an integral part of performance and continues throughout the performance. The drum and the drummer are equally if not more important than the kudiyattam performers. 

Only classical and mythological stories are performed in Kudiyattam. However, Dr Margi madhu has experimented by performing Shakesphere's Mcbeth (for which,as he confessed, he received considerable flak).

No artificial lighting is used in the performance. Only an oil lamp is used for lighting for the entire performance. 

One of the beauties of Kudiyattam is its elaborate costumes and exemplary length of performance. The make up time for a lead Kudiyattam performers will be about 6 hours.  The performance can go up to 12 hours at a stretch. It is hard to imagine an artist with such heavy robes and make up performing for 12 hours. 
Dr Margi Madhu's Kudiyattam demonstration 

Other niche of this art is the performance itself. The performance is replete with elaborate hand and eye gestures. It is a very captivating display of the performer's theatrical talent. The synchronization with the drum beat must be very accurate. 

The energy and vibration in the performance can only be experienced. No words can do justice to the energy levels of the performer. 

Anyone interested in performing arts must see atleast one performance of Kudiyattam. Since it is highly nuanced and very rich in cultural content, it is not performed often. Thanks to some art patrons in Bangalore, i was lucky to see a few performances by the gurus of Kudiyattam. 

I am very eager to visit the kudiyattam school in Cochin. I am looking forward for the culturally enriching trip later this year. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Need for Reform...

Lord Sri Krishna at Udupi 
I belong to a moderately orthodox middle class Brahmin family. To be precise, i belong to the community who follow the teachings of Madhwacharya (followers of Dwaitha, called Madhvas) , the great saint, who is believed to be the avathara (incarnation) of Vaayu devaru (Hanuman). 

Even to this day, during important festivals and functions, it is not uncommon in our family to cook food using firewood and/or charcoal. Food cooked in charcoal or fire wood is considered to be more sacred. This is called, in orthodox vernacular parlance, as "MADI ADIGE  (ಮಡಿ ಅಡುಗೆ )".

I have been brought up in an orthodox setting with fair degree of space for free speech and action. In fact, my wife and my mother originally belonged to the Smartha community of Brahmins (Followers of Adwaitha, called Smarthas), the community who believe in the teachings of Shankaracharya , another great saint and scholar of 8th century AD.

I am a great believer in God.I respect rituals and customs. Even to this day, i perform Sandhavandhane atleast once a day .Though i believe in many principles and customs of my religion (and or cast), i am also a little rebellious on certain aspects of customs. 

Before i continue, i make a disclaimer that my intention here is not to hurt the religious sentiments of anyone. I am only trying to put my thoughts. 

I have been making some pilgrimage of late. I believe in pilgrimages. I have great faith in religious places like Mantralaya, Udupi, Sringeri, Kukke subramanya etc. By grace of god, I have visited the above places quite a few times during the last few years. But over the years, i notice that there is an over riding effect of rituals and customs on people than the virtue of god (Or the idea of god). "Bhakthi" or devotion has taken a back seat in comparison with practices, customs, rituals and procedures. 

Let me give some examples. 
Last Sunday (31 March 2013), i had been to Udupi, the temple of Lord Krishna. The idol in the Krishna temple is  installed by Madhwacharya. By grace of god, this was my second visit to Udupi in the last few months. It is a normal practice in all the coastal temples of Karnataka (Udupi being one) to serve food (lunch) for the devotees who come there. In most temples, it is also a normal practice to serve food for the Brahmins separately. 

Apart from normal servings to the Brahmins, In udupi (and in mantralaya), there is also a separate round of serving of food for the Brahmins (mostly exclusive to Madhwa brahmins) along with the swamigalu in peetha (the seer in charge). It is normally considered sacred to have food in this batch of serving since the seer in-charge is considered to be equivalent to Madhwacharya. In orthodox vernacular parlance, this is called "Chowki Pangathi" (ಚೌಕಿ ಪಂಗತಿ). 

On this visit, i did go for my lunch to this chowki Pangathi. I was accompanied by my cousin Pavan. The food we had was one of the best meals i have ever had. There was for sure the divine grace of Lord Sri krishna in that awesome meal. 

But i was a little disappointed by the attitude of some people there. Most people, rather i must say most self proclaimed "Maha Brahmins" (High brahmins) were more bothered about the rituals and procedures before and after the food rather than the food itself. I was aghast by the amount of food that was wasted by the people who sat along with me for the food in the Chowki Pangathi. 

What is more disappointing is that, this food is considered to be Prasada (Blessing) of Lord Sri Krishna and it is taken in the divine presence of Sri Madhwacharya (in the form of seer or Pontiff In-charge). It is believed to be very sacred. 

Some self proclaimed high Brahmins were just more interested in putting their Kacche panche (ಕಚ್ಚೆ ಪಂಚೆ ) straight and putting the angara and akshathe properly. They were interested in the water to perform their rituals before taking the food. At the end of all this, What do they do?They waste most of their food!!

I do not understand why , we , the so called elite Brahmins have failed to understand that the rituals performed during the meals are intrinsically derived from the value and divinity of the food itself. Thus wasting food in a way is showing disrespect to god. 

Consider for example, before having food we say "satyam tvartena parishincami" and encircle our food with water. That is, we say,  O Food! You are True. I encircle you with divine righteousness.

Is it fair to waste this divinity and put it in garbage? I feel we need to introspect seriously on this. Are we being fair to ourselves or at least to the god we believe in ? 

People can always say "No" if they do not need something. Nothing wrong in saying "No". For some reason, in our customs  it is inappropriate to say "No" for the food servings but it is alright to waste the served food. 

On a more global level, i have observed many people cutting Queues in these places. Be it Tirupathi, Udupi or Mantralaya, some people always look at a way to by-pas the queue. Even the so called educated brahmins look at somehow sneaking in the middle. I have even observed these maha brahmins cutting the queue so that they can attend the chowki pangathi. 

Some people after finishing the first round of Darshana, look at somehow squeezing themselves again in the middle of the queue for the second round of darshana. I do not know how fair is this practice. How can people be so inconsiderate for the other people waiting behind. Are we being fair to god by doing this?   I feel we need to introspect seriously on these practices.