Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Draupadi and the Mango

This story in Kashiram Das’ Bengali Mahabharata does not occur in any of the Sanskrit versions, but is also found in the Tamil version of the epic. Both must be drawing upon a common source that has not yet been found.

During their wanderings in the 13 years of exile, the Pandavas and Draupadi came upon a lovely ashram with many trees laden with fruits. They decided to rest in that spot for some time. Suddenly Draupadi’s eyes fell upon a mango dangling unseasonal from a branch. She asked Arjuna to pluck that mango for her. Arjuna shot a divine arrow and brought that mango to his beloved wife.

As she was about to eat the mango, Lord Krishna appeared and told them that they had committed a grave misdeed. Yudhishthira grew most anxious and asked Krishna what he meant. Krishna told them all that the ashram belonged to the sage Sandipan who even the gods and the demons feared.

“For ages Sandipan muni has lived in this forest. Every day at dawn, he leaves for his meditation and fasts the whole day. Every day a single mango ripens on this tree. When the muni returns in the evening, in great satisfaction he plucks the mango from the tree and eats it. Returning from his penance to the ashram and not finding the mango, the muni will turn you all into a heap of ashes. Alas, Partha, what have you done?” said the lord.

With folded hands king Yudhishthira, asked Krishna a way to save them all from Sandipan’s wrath. Hearing his words, the lord said: “If the tree appears just as it was when the mango was on it, then all can be saved, O king.” When the eldest Pandava asked him how that miracle could be achieved, Krishna told them that that if they all spoke the truth about whatever was uppermost on their minds at any given moment, the mango would go back to the place it came from. All six of them undertook to do as Krishna asked them to.

First spoke Yudhishthira: “Every day I think that if only I could regain my past prosperity, day and night I would perform Brahmin-feeding yajna.” The unseasonal mango rose upwards to some extent, astonishing everyone.

Then said mighty Bhima: “This is what I think day and night: with blows of my mace, I’ll slay the hundred Kauravas. I will shatter Duryodhana’s thigh with my mace, and rip open wicked Duhshasana’s breast with my nails.” When Bhima had spoken, the mango rose further upward.

Aruna said: “This rises in my mind all the time: that with weapons as numerous as the dust will I cut down the wicked Kshatriyas. And I will slay valiant Karna with a divine arrow.” Then the mango rose further upwards. Now it was the twins’ turn.

Nakula said, “Ever I think that when the ruler of Dharma will be king again, I will examine and report to him the kingdom’s good and ill.” Sahadeva said, “Ever I think of how returning to the kingdom I will forget all sorrows in looking after our mother.” Then the mango rose further upwards, almost touching the branch.

Then, slowly, softly, spoke Draupadi: “This is what I think of day and night: all those wicked persons who have pained me so much, at the hands of Bhima and Arjuna, they all shall be slain. All their women will weep in sorrow and I, delighted, will secretly mock them.” The moment Draupadi said this, the mango dropped to the ground again.

Terrified, Yudhishthira burst out: “Why did the mango fall down? Tell us, Krishna.” The lord replied: “Drupadi ruined everything - she spoke all false words.” Hearing this, Arjuna became furious and strung an arrow on his bow. He said: “Quickly speak truthful words, otherwise I’ll slice off your head with this sharp arrow,”

When Arjuna spoke thus, Draupadi spoke the truth casting aside shame: “Lord, what shall I say? You know the spoken and unspoken thoughts of all. When I saw heroic Karna at the syayamvar, since that day I often think that had he been Kunti’s son, then I would have had six husbands.” When she said this, the mango shot up that very moment and was on the branch of the tree as previously. Acknowledging this a miracle, all were delighted.

But mighty Bhima, who loved Draupadi the most roared with anger, “Is this your conduct, evil-minded woman? You have five husbands, yet you secretly desire one more? What made you turn to such evil ways? As long as your mind and heart favour the enemy, who can trust you?” Saying this, lifting his mace, in mighty fury Bhima rushed to slay Draupadi.

With a slight smile, the lord seized Bhima’s hands. Then he said: “Without cause do you slander Draupadi. She spoke not what she desired but what she feared. The cause of this is secret and it is not proper to reveal all now. After the king has returned to his kingdom and has sat on his throne, then will I specially reveal all to everyone.”

Hearing this response from Krishna’s mouth, heroic Vrikodara sat down restrained. And they all thought about what Krishna said as he prepared to take his leave. But this was all his maya: Draupadi had always prided herself as the supreme sati nari, and to break her pride was all this arranged by the lord.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Who's the Best Blogger of Them All?

“What is quality blogging?” is a question that confounds most active bloggers.

To me, a blog is nothing but what its etymological base suggests: a web-log, or an online diary. Each person who maintains a diary writes whatever he or she wants to write about in his or her diary. Similarly, since a blog is just the online version of the diary, every blogger has the freedom to write whatever they want to in their blog. Some people use their dairies just to jot down quotations they read somewhere and liked, and some others use their diaries just to collect good jokes for the after-dinner speeches. Others write deeply personal thoughts in their diaries.

And so it is with blogs: every blogger has their own agendas. A lady blogger always posts her favourite poems – some her own poetry, others she read somewhere else and loved. Another blogger wants to share her darkest secrets, her most rebellious thoughts. As long as both are successful in their agendas, they are both quality bloggers for me, and I read them both with equal interest.

The other aspect of the weblog is that unlike conventional diaries, blogs are social, since they are meant to be read by others apart from the writer himself or herself. And so the good blogger is one whose blogs are understood and considered worthy of perusal by others. Good writing, as far as the language skills go, then becomes all about picking up topics that can be of interest to the most number of readers, or by the greatest variety of readers. Good grammar gets relegated to the background – if a blogger’s post is understandable, that grammar is good enough.
One prominent blogger’s level of erudition and his language skills are beyond most of us average bloggers, but he is read much less than another younger blogger, whose grammar may not be perfect, but is widely read because he posts stuff that is indeed very funny, and much easier to understand. I read both of them regularly, but for entirely different reasons – to learn from the older blogger’s experience of life, and to feel refreshed by the younger one’s uniquely fresh perspective on life and the idiocies and idiosyncrasies of his daily routine. Since most blogging is done on social networking sites, the most popular blogger will be one who will not only write to be understood by the widest variety of readers, but one who will always keep on thinking of new ways to involve the maximum number of other bloggers in “group activities”.
So who do I think are the best ? It has a little to do with my definition of quality, but a lot more to do with my personal tastes. I read someone for his imagination and another for his lovely use of words. I enjoy equally a male blogger's delicious political incorrectness and the bravura bravado of a female blogger's articulation. I adore the sensitivity of one, and admire another's command over the language. I venerate the starkness of one's prose and the lushness of another's poetry.

But my single favourite blogger is the one who is highly versatile, can write on all kinds of topics in all kinds of styles, has above-average writing and grammar skills, and is consciously aware of blogging as a means of social bonding. Who among the ones you read do you think meets these criteria?

Mirror, mirror in the hall, who's the best blogger of them all?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Never Sleepless In Delhi

The old joke about adoption being the height of laziness does the rounds of my mind each time anyone talks about the modern-day panacea – the Viagra Pill. My meddling mind wanders to the Biblical injunction against the deadly sin. No, no, I am not referring here to the sin of Lust. What I am alluding to is another of the Seven Deadly Sins – that of Sloth. Or plain laziness, if you prefer a simpler term.

Unlike my illustrious grandfather (who industriously ran our family chemical industry and oversaw the working of our family farm till the day his 90-year-old body gave up the ghost), or his equally worthy son, my sire (who doubles up as our plumber-cum-carpenter-cum-electrician-cum-mechanic-cum-odd-jobman even at almost 65), I am an extremely lazy individual. Maybe it was just the caprice of Mother Nature, but by the time it was my turn, my ancestral legacy of industrious capacity had exhausted itself.

I sleep (my daily quota of ten hours) in the same jeans and tee shirt I wear to office, because it is too much of an effort to change into any shorts or pajamas at night. I prefer poached eggs for breakfast, because it is too much effort to make omelettes or to boil the eggs – you have to chop onions for the former, and remove the shells to eat the latter). In the old days before office lunches took care of the problem, I used to have Maggi for lunch and dinner. Not because I liked it (in fact I detested it), but because it is too much hard work cooking even the rudimentary khichdi. And as you must have guessed, anything that requires effort is an anathema to my sensitive soul.

Unlike me, Neel is no Accident of Nature. She is, as she claims, the culmination of centuries of effort (in avoiding any sort of effort) on the part of 17 generations of the honourable family. This pinnacle of sloth, the marvelous end product of impeccable evolution, has Rip Van Winkle as her revered idol. 

Neel claims that her four-hours-a-day afternoon siestas are not indicative of any deep-rooted idleness – they just reflect her fervent belief in the principle of conversation of energy. And why does she need to conserve her energy, you may well ask. With a gentle smile playing on her face, she will reply: so that she can prepare for her twelve-hour nightly sleep with great gusto!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Haiku Collection

Till a month or so back, all I knew about haiku was that it was the name of a brand of saris popular centuries ago. I do not even know if this brand still exists. But I recently had my senses ravaged by the beauty of this art form.

For those who are equally clueless, a haiku is a three line poem. The first line of a haiku has 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllables and the third line 5 syllables again. Thus a haiku is a three-line 17-syllable composition in the 5-7-5 format.

Explaining what a haiku is tough enough. Writing one is tougher still. Especially for some one who has no sense of awareness whether a word has two syllables or three syllables or seventeen for that matter.
But by far the toughest part is the actual poetry part of the haiku. A haiku is supposed to compress into a few beautiful words a very large expanse of meaning. For one who is totally untalented in poetry, attempting a haiku is nothing short of masochism.

Here are a few of my haikus. Or hokkus or hakka noodles, whatever you may choose to call my efforts.

Hate vegetables

All veg food is really sad
Why is it not meat?

That was really cool

When we fell down from a boat
Did not break any bones!

Brutal cold winter

Gives way to summer warm when
I light cigarette!

She wastes all her hours

Chatting with me all day long
On office bandwidth.

Pink tube of beauty

Fair and lovely I use now
To be less ugly.

Can real love blossom

Internet age and online

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Romantic Legend

Denzil, Noel and Philip were brothers. When I first saw them in junior school, Denzil and Noel had already been teaching at my school for over 25 years, and were both in their early 50s. The youngest brother Philip had been teaching for close to 15 years, and he was in his mid 30s.
They had lived together all their lives, three confirmed bachelors whose only love was an eclectic and huge collection of music records. They were hugely popular as far as private tuitions went, not only among our schoolmates, but also among other school students. Not only because they were all very good teachers, but also because all the kids loved to study with all those wonderful old English numbers playing softly in the background.

All three were very heavy smokers. Each of them would always stop in the open corridors in between classes, and drag deep into the wonderfully blue smoke. The heavy smoking went very well with their image. Especially with tall, rangy Denzil, who reminded every student of Clint Eastwood and his ever-present cheroot.

Denzil was the teacher who was in charge of the school library, and he was always willing to bend the rule that a student could borrow only one book at a time. He always encouraged voracious readers like me to borrow a library card from a fellow student who was not that interested in reading, and use those extra cards to pick up two and sometimes three books at a time.

Noel was short and bald, and had a small neat moustache. He was a dapper little gentleman, and extremely fast on his feet. Little wonder then, that he was the teacher who was in charge of the dramatic and performing arts clubs of the school. Philip’s extra responsibility was as the school photographer. He was always so good with the lens that our school never needed to pay any studio to cover any school function. Or to click the class photographs every year.

A decade passed, and I reached class 10. Denzil was to retire in another six months when he suddenly took ill. Lung cancer, the doctor said, which did not really surprise any one. He took 3 months leave from the school, but died within two weeks. The whole school turned up for the funeral, and as a tear escaped Noel’s eyes, we all joined him in remembering the handsome man we all loved. Philip, not quite unexpectedly, went about clicking the whole function, as if he would collapse the moment he stopped indulging in his favourite hobby.

A little before the board exams started, we heard that Noel went to the same doctor and heard the same diagnosis. He had never really recovered from his brother’s death – they were only a year apart in age. The day he heard the diagnosis, he just took to bed, and never got up again. With a month, the lovable little man too was dead.

That day, Philip had a heart attack. Two brothers gone within a year was just too much for anybody to handle, I guess. Thankfully he recovered slowly, and wisely decided to kick the bad habit before it kicked him too. Suddenly all alone in the world, Philip got a little too close to the domestic help who had cared for him through his illness. She was a young Christian girl, and was apparently too overawed by the Anglo-Indian gentleman’s attentions to resist.

Tongues started wagging when the young girl started gaining too much weight much too fast. He was a bad, immoral man, you would have all concluded by now, but you would be wrong. When he observed the afore-mentioned weight gain, he took the girl to the gynaecologist. When she confirmed their suspicions, he was overjoyed. He asked her to marry him, and she readily agreed.

Not at all ashamed of his liaison with someone socially inferior, he threw a huge party to celebrate his wedding. He not only invited the whole school, but also went and invited each and every one of the ex-students who had ever taken tuitions from him or his elder brothers. I was in Delhi at that time, but my friends who attended, told me that it seemed the whole of the city had descended on the function. The official figures by the caterers put the count at “only” 4250 dinner guests, but it seemed that nearly 10 thousand people turned up. Of course, many may not have eaten, so both figures may well be compatible with each other.

For once, Philip was too busy to click photographs, so the school authorities happily obliged and hired a studio photographer.

Seven months later, they had twin sons. Young Denzil and Noel are now 13 years old. Philip retires next year, and his lungs are fine: his wife never let him smoke again. His other two vices remain intact – he still clicks photos, and he still listens to Western oldies while teaching his sons and assorted other people’s sons and daughters. He was hugely popular before, but now he’s a romantic legend among the youngsters. His crusty older brothers must be a bit envious, but very proud.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

I Will Buy a New Ear

Another year has passed. I'm a little bit older, a little bit wiser, a little bit rounder, but still none the wiser.
All optimists stay up until midnight to see the new year in. All pessimists stay up to make sure the old year leaves. But both categories insist on making new year resolutions, and what is worse, insist on telling you what their resolutions are. They forget that good resolutions are simply checks that you draw on a bank where you don’t have any account.

So here’s my New Year's Resolution - to tolerate fools and fishes more gladly, provided this does not encourage them to take up more of my time! Entirely for your perverse pleasure, here is the list of my ten alternative New Year Resolutions. I considered each of them carefully before settling on the one finally selected:
  1. I will answer my snail mail with the same enthusiasm with which I answer my e-mail.
  2. When I hear a funny joke I will not reply: "LOL... LOL!"
  3. I will balance my chequebook properly. How about balancing it on my nose?
  4. I will not look at pretty girls. It’s depressing to find out exactly how many people there are who will never notice you.
  5. I will not look at pretty boys either. I am neither a deviant nor a paedophile.
  6. So many women, so little time. I will make more time. Only to be disappointed again.
  7. I will not tell the same story at every get together. I will think of new ways to torture my few listeners.
  8. I will not encourage the kids in my society to pee down from the top floor at the people passing below.
  9. I will remember it isn't worthwhile wrestling with bulls - you get all muddy and the bulls just love it!
  10. I will take neither myself nor any of the above seriously.