Posted in Books, Literature, Russian literaure

“No Day Without a Line”

Roshen Dalal

[I had written this article earlier and it was published in the Garhwal Post, a different version in Hindustantimes.com]

“In everything I want to reach
The innermost kernel
In work, in life’s constant quest
In the heart’s trouble;”
(Boris Pasternak)

Literature of the former Soviet Union was once popular, but has now largely been forgotten. Though ‘Soviet literature’ is perhaps too wide a term, the great writers of the USSR, had something in common – like Boris Pasternak in his poem above, their writing had a certain intensity, reflecting that ‘constant quest’ to reach ‘the innermost kernel’ of everything. Their greatness was recognised in the West, and some of them– Boris Pasternak, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Josef Brodsky– were Nobel Prize winners. Other brilliant writers included Andrei Voznesensky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Sinyavsky, and many more.

Several of the Soviet writers were imprisoned or faced problems of some kind with the authorities in…

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Posted in Dehradun, India

Dehradun, memories

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On the 29th of September, I was invited by WIC, Dehradun, to talk about life in Dehradun, memories and stories. It brought back memories of this house, where we lived for some years, in Hathibarkala, Dehradun.

The garden was huge, with fruit trees of all kinds, guava, litchi, mango, plum, lemon, mulberry. Pink lilies grew wild, and we ate wild mushrooms, trusting the old woman who came to cut the grass to choose and give us the non-poisonous ones.

Birds were so numerous then, the paradise fly-catcher with its gorgeous ribbon-like white tail, flying across several times a day. Golden orioles, green pigeons, long tailed blue magpies, owls, big and small, woodpeckers, the list is endless.

The garden faded off into the forest, from where jackals visited. One could hear the barking deer, and occasionally see the wild jungle cat, that looked like a miniature leopard. Of course, there were plenty of snakes too, which I wasn’t fond of in those days–I came to appreciate them later. And small creatures of all kinds lived in the space above the wooden ceilings and the roof.

The house itself is symmetrical, built in British days. I haven’t visited lately, but I know the house and others like it are still there. Hathibarkala, the Survey of India estate, is still an oasis of greenery.

Posted in History, India

Lal Bahadur Shastri–and how he got his name!

Yesterday was the birth anniversary of both Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri. I asked friends if they knew Shastri’s real name, but none were aware of it. Below is an extract from my book The Puffin History of India volume 2, that reveals his name. It had always struck me as strange that such a simple man who dropped his own surname so as not to be identified with any caste, then took on a brahmanical one.

Looking back on those days I remember the food shortages. Shastri requested everyone in the country to skip one meal a week. Would that really conserve food? I don’t know, but most people, including my family, followed this.

The extract is below:

‘After Jawaharlal Nehru died, the major question was, who would

be the next prime minister? Gulzarilal Nanda, who was the

acting prime minister,was one possibility, while others were Morarji

Desai, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Jagjivan Ram. Kamaraj was in favour

of Shastri, and persuaded others in the Congress to support him.

Thus on 2 June 1964, Shastri was unanimously chosen as prime

minister by the Congress and assured the support of all the other

leaders. He was a short, slim man, 155 cm (5’2”) tall, always neatly

dressed in dhoti, kurta and cap.

A heavy responsibility

On his appointment, Shastri said, ‘I have been entrusted with a very

heavy responsibility, with the highest charge. I tremble when I am

reminded of the fact that the country and Parliament have been led

by no less a person than Jawaharlal Nehru . . . I can assure you I will

try to discharge my responsibility with utmost humility.’

Early life

Lal Bahadur Verma was born on 2 October 1904, at Mughalsarai

near Varanasi. In 1906, his father, a school teacher, died, and he was

brought up by his mother and various relatives. During his school

days, he dropped his surname, as he did not want to be identified

with any particular caste. In 1921, in his last year of school, he heard

Mahatma Gandhi speak, and left school without completing his final

exams to join the freedom movement.

A new name and a new life

Later the same year, he joined the Kashi Vidyapeeth, a national

educational institution, and graduated in 1925 with the ‘Shastri’

degree. From this, he took the name Shastri.After this he joined the

Servants of the People Society, an organization of service to the

nation, and worked both for this and for the Congress. He

participated in the Civil Disobedience Movement and other

Congress activities, and like Nehru, was imprisoned for a total of

nine years. In the meantime, in 1928, he married Lalita Devi, a

young woman of seventeen and over the years had four children.

His family lived in great poverty, specially when he was in jail.

Between 1937 and 1939, he was part of the United Provinces (UP)

Legislative Assembly.

After 1947

After independence he became the UP home minister and transport

minister and then held several posts in the union government. He

was minister for transport and railways in 1952, for transport and

communication in 1957, commerce and industry in 1958, and home

minister in 1961. He resigned in 1963 under the Kamaraj Plan, but

again joined the union cabinet in January 1964, on Nehru’s request.

As prime minister

When he took over as prime minister, the country was full of

problems. The sense of mission and dedication to a cause that had

been there at the time of independence, had diminished. The

Chinese war was a shock from which the economy had not

recovered. The Third Five-Year Plan had begun to show declining

growth figures.’

There is more on him in my book!

Posted in book review., Books, Poems

The Golden Treasury of Poetry–Favourite Books-2

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About a month ago I was a judge at an elocution contest at a local school. Twenty-nine schools participated, and one from each school, from each of the classes 3,4, 5, had to recite a poem. Listening to and giving marks to around 85-90 children was quite a task!

All had perfect memory and confidence, despite mispronouncing some words. Many poems were repeated, perhaps they were in their textbooks? For some reason ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ was a favourite with class five.

I wished at that time they had access to this wonderful book, The Golden Treasury of Poetry, selected by Louis Untermeyer, and with the beautiful drawings of Joan Walsh Anglund.

This book was gifted to me when I was nine years old, and it is still a prized possession. As the Foreword says: ‘This is a book to grow on, this is a book to grow with…’ It has funny poems, short poems, long serious poems, and others of all kinds that would appeal to a growing child. They are by poets well-known, less known, and even by those who are anonymous.

Some have remained in my head over the years, for instance: ‘Speak gently spring, and make no sudden sound,/For in my windy valley, yesterday I found/ New-born foxes, squirming on the ground./ Speak gently.’ [Four Little Foxes, by Lew Sarett]. There is T.S. Eliot on cats, William Cowper on a snail, Thomas Hood’s ‘I remember, I remember’, extracts from Shakespeare, poems by Shelley, Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, classic poems such as The Pied Piper and The Inchcape Rock, Kentucky Belle, and an entire section called ‘Laughter Holding Both Its Sides’, as well as so many more. Rosalie Grayer’s ‘Altar Smoke’ too, comes to mind, beginning with the words: ‘Somewhere inside of me/There must have always been/ A tenderness/ For the little, lived with things/ A man crowds upon his worn fistful of earth….’

The book is still available and I thought of recommending it to schools till I saw its exorbitant price of Rs. 74,000! Certainly, a valuable book to have!

I have other wonderful poetry collections too–will write more on them sometime.

 

It

Posted in Books, History, India

Why is 2008 an Unforgettable Year for India?: ‘India at 70’ — An Excerpt

Penguin India Blog

Author Roshen Dalal in her new book, ‘India at 70’, explores the journey of India through its 70 years since Independence in the minutest details. The enthralling read is not just a dive into the rich history of the country, but also a celebration of the major milestones in every aspect and field of society.

In the following excerpt from the book, Roshen Dalal takes a deeper look into why the year 2008 will always be considered unforgettable in the history of modern India.

The year 2008 had some unforgettable moments.

Floods are not uncommon in the monsoon season, but in August that year, the floods in Bihar were exceptionally severe. River Kosi changed course, and over 2.3 million people were affected.

In October, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Agreement was signed and was considered a landmark treaty. According to this, the US would provide India with nuclear fuel and technology…

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Posted in Books, Bookshop

A basement full of books

As I woke this morning a memory surfaced of being in a basement full of books. Not sure why I remembered it but gradually all the details of that day surfaced.

I had gone to a bookshop in Delhi, and was browsing through books on religion in ancient India. A young woman came up to me. ‘I have a lot of such books’, she said, ‘and I want to give them away. They belonged to my father-in-law, he has died, and I don’t want them, I want to clear the basement where they are stored.’

‘Ask a second-hand bookshop’, I suggested. But, she said her father-in-law loved those books. She wanted to give them to someone who would love them too. Won’t you come and see them?, she asked. ‘I’ll come some time’, I said, trying to put her off, but, ‘Why not come now?’, she insisted. ‘I’ll take you there in my car and drop you back.’ For some reason, I agreed, got into this unknown woman’s car and went to her house. As we entered, she locked, bolted, and triple locked the door. I began to have some doubts. There was no one else in the house. Soon, she led me to the basement, and I saw it certainly was full of books. As I moved forward to look at them, the electricity went off. There was a faint light from a high-up window. ‘Oh’, said the woman, ‘let me check’, and she left, locking the door behind her. Now here I was, stuck in a dimly lit basement, surrounded by books that I  hardly wanted to look at. To add to it, somehow I had left my handbag upstairs. Those were the days before mobile phones, but still I began to regret everything I had done that morning. Was I going to end my days in a basement, and if so why?

To my surprise, about five minutes later the door opened. ‘I can’t tell what has happened to the electricity’, she said. ‘Would you like to bring some of the books upstairs?’ I picked up two books and ascended the stairs. ‘I’ll  make tea’, she offered. ‘I need to go’, I said.  ‘Please take the books you have chosen’, she said. ‘Take more if you can.’ ‘I’ll come some other time’, I responded.

I picked up my handbag, I could see it had been opened. Somewhat reluctantly she unlocked the triple-locked door, and muttered something about not being able to drop me back. I escaped into the sunshine, and took an auto home.

An anti-climax? A pointless story? Perhaps, but the memory has remained all these years. And those two books are still with me.

Posted in Books

Thinking about books….

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Medieval Indian Literature

A reading group posted about how unhappy they were about people who borrowed books and did not return them, or who returned them stained and tattered.

Perhaps I was like them once. Today, I don’t lend non-fiction for practical reasons. I need to refer to them when I write. But I lend fiction to anyone who requests a book, and if the book is not returned I forget about it.

I used to be an avid book-collector, and to some extent I still am, but that possessiveness of earlier days is gone.

When I went to teach in Rishi Valley, I took with me two suitcases–as so many things had to be packed for a stay that lasted several years, I could take only four or five books with me. The rest were stored in the house of a friend.

As time passed I realized I did not need those books. Those I liked were in my head, in my memories. Rishi Valley had a good enough library, so that I was never short of books to read. By the time I returned from there, half the stored books were lost. I did not mourn them, as their essence remained in me.

Today I once again have a large library as well as many on kindle, but my attitude to books has changed. Nothing is ever lost, even if I never see those books of the past.

Posted in death, Hinduism, India, Religion, Upanishads

Life after death

The Brahma Sutra, a Sanskrit text assigned to various dates between the 5th century BCE and the first Century CE, is one of the most complex texts, impossible to understand without a commentary. What, for instance, can the average reader understand from a one word sutra that says, ‘kampanat’, i.e, ‘trembles’. Only the commentators know what this refers to, and which passages in the Upanishads are connected with this.

After many passages explaining Brahman, the ultimate cause of the world and the only reality, the third chapter begins with  a discussion on reincarnation. Quoting various Upanishads as usual, the commentators explain the terse short statements. When the individual soul departs from the body, they say, it is accompanied by subtle elements, as well as prana, or the breath, and by the eleven indriyas or senses. After spending some time in a heavenly world or in hell, the soul returns to earth to a new body, based on its residual karma, that is those actions that still have not been exhausted by enjoyment or sorrow in heaven or hell.

This brief account is of course, a simplification of the text, but provides some indications on theories of reincarnation.

 

 

Posted in History, India

When the Journey Began: ‘India at 70’ — An Excerpt

Penguin India Blog

In 2017, India’s spacecraft Mangalyaan is orbiting Mars, satellites are regularly sent into space, the economy is growing rapidly and India’s diverse art and culture is appreciated globally. And, most importantly, India is the largest democracy in the world.

The story of India as an independent nation began seventy years ago, in 1947, when the country gained independence after almost 200 years of British rule. For the first time, India became a united political entity, a nation with clearly defined boundaries. What type of country would the new India be? Would it remain united and strong?

At this time, the territory known as India consisted of eleven British provinces and some additional areas directly under British rule as well as 565 Indian states (also called princely states) where the British had overall control. The Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah, wanted a separate state of Pakistan, and finally it…

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