Posted in book review., Books, India

Book review: A good book on wrestling!

I was looking up details on the food wrestlers eat [in India], and came across a fascinating book, The Wrestlers Body, by Joseph Alter.

This was published in 1992, so it doesn’t include the female wrestlers, and the recent movies, Sultan or Dangal, but it explores all aspects of a wrestler’s life in an akhara.

What do they eat? Most are vegetarian. Ghee, almonds, and milk are essential along with normal vegetarian food. No alcohol or tobacco, no drugs. No sex, they are supposed to be celibate. There are a lot of guidelines on how they should maintain this.

Their daily routine, worship of Hanuman, celebration of Nag Panchami, and a lot more is part of this book.

‘This is a study of wrestling as a system of meaning, and it must be made clear at the outset that I have not undertaken to study the technical aspects of the sport.’ says the author in his preface.

There are chapters on the akhara, the guru-chela system, patrons, and the discipline a wrestler requires.

The book is well-researched. I am not interested in wrestling or outdoor sports, nevertheless I really appreciated the book, and its insights into the philosophy and spirituality behind a sport, and how it transforms the individual.

Alter, Joseph S. The Wrestler’s Body: Identity and Ideology in North India. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1992 1992. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft6n39p104/

 

 

Posted in Poems

‘ No man has hired us’

‘No man has hired us’ are words we find in the New Testament, but to me they represent T. S. Eliot.

Ever since I first read these words in his poem, they haunted me. I remembered them whenever I passed labourers standing in groups, at crossroads or corners, with their paint brushes or bags of tools, waiting for someone to hire them. Some of them used to get hired every day, but now they wait in vain. So sharing these words, from a different time and cultures, but so relevant to us in India today.

The voices of the Unemployed:

No man has hired us

With pocketed hands

And lowered faces

We stand about in open places

And shiver in unlit rooms.

Only the wind moves

Over empty fields, untilled

Where the plough rests, at an angle

To the furrow. In this land

There shall be one cigarette to two men,

To two women one half pint of bitter

Ale. In this land

No man has hired us.

Our life is unwelcome, our death

Unmentioned in “The Times.”

***

Posted in Uttarakhand

The Fodder Queens: Uttarakhand News-2

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The fodder queens

All over Uttarakhand farmers are suffering because of the note ban. Flowers are dying and vegetables and fruits are rotting, as no one has cash to buy them. The concept of a cashless or even less-cash economy can hardly work in a region in which some of the remote, snow-bound villages do not even have electricity, leave alone banks.

In this scenario, it was a relief  to read about something better–a fodder cutting contest for the village women of Tehri Garhwal, with really attractive prizes. Women had to cut the maximum quantity of grass in two minutes, earning 10 points for each kilo of fodder. They were also given points for the quality of fodder, and for their knowledge of medicinal plants

The contest was held in Akhori village on 22 December 2016. Preliminary rounds were held in 200 villages, and 31 finalists were chosen from over 2000 participants.  Forty-year old Vimla Devi from Chilyal village was the winner. She has been used to cutting grass, she and other participants do so every day.  The fodder queen or Ghasyari, received a cheque of Rs one lakh, and a 160 kg silver crown! She cut 4.1 kilos. The first runner-up was Gyansu Devi of Dhansani village, with 51,000 and a 130 kg silver crown. Indira Devi of Akhori village was third. She received 21, 000 and a crown weighing 110 kg.

What will they do with the money? Vimla Devi wants to use it for the medical treatment of her husband, working in Chandigarh. Gyansu Devi will use it to educate her six children.

The Chetna Andolan organizes the competition. Trepan Singh Chauhan, its convenor, said that women were the best ecologists, preserving the environment in these hill regions.

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Posted in Poems, Writing

Writing and Bidyutprabha Devi

I have been busy with a forthcoming  book on 70 years of independence. Of course, that period is already covered in my Puffin History of India vol 2, but this book’s focus is culture. I keep reading wonderful poets and stories in translation–some may be included in the book, some may not.

These two verses below are from Bidyutprabha Devi’s poem, Dilemma, translated from  Odia, the language of the state of Odisha [earlier spelt Orissa]. Bidyutprabha is recognized as one of the best Odia women poets. Only writers know how wonderful writing is.

‘Writing is the balm
for all my pain.
It’s the glory of my sorrow.
Writing is rain-soaked woods.
It’s the music of cloud bursts
during the month of Shravana!

I wish I could speak of
the joy that gathers in my heart.
Like a flame
in the mouth of storm,
my poetry
A luminous lamp!’

(Translation: Sachidananda Mohanty (First published in Kavya Bharati, 1997]:-

Posted in Books, Poems, Sahitya Akademi

Lament of the Flowers [ Pushpa Vilapamu] by Karuna Sri, [ Jandhyala Pappaya Sastri, 1912, -1992] translated from the Telugu

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I came across this poem recently, in The Sahitya Akademi collections, and really liked it. It must be better in the original Telugu, but the translation is below:

—————————————–

Bent on worshipping you

I woke up with cock-crow:

Bathed, clad in pure white,

Entered an orchard to fetch flowers.

As I stood by a plant, held the bough

And touched a flower, lo: all the flowers raised

Their voices in chorus, wailing, ‘Must you kill us all?’

My hear sank, something flashed in me, as ‘Lament of Flowers’.

‘Will you nip us all and collect in baskets

As we play in the tender leaf-lap of our mother

And sell us to gain salvation? What use

Any worship, when you are heartless?

‘We are dull heads, you are wise;

You have intellect, imagination;

Has your heart turned to stone?

Doesn’t it yield a few flowers to offer to god?

‘While we breathe,  we air the identity

Of our creeper- mother—enjoy rocking freely

In her hands–and as the hour approaches,

Contented we close our eyes–at her holy feet.

We facilitate the air dashing scents; feast the bees

That court us with sweet nectar; please the eyes

Of the likes of you; why this selfishness and–

Stop, don’t snap us–Do you sever mother and child?

‘You’re fine–cutting other’s throats for your sake—

How mean of you to acquire merit thus? Will the Master of all

Accept this bloody offering? Won’t the all knowing Lord

Receive our poor souls? Why an intermediary?

‘Strangling our throats with a thread of wool,

Sending needles through our hearts, they bind us

To deck their fashionable hairdos—

Alas, pitiless indeed is your fair sex!

‘Squeezing us in presses to the last drop

Of life, you men make attar

With our heart’s blood to was the foul

Smell of your bodies, O murderer!

‘Alas! All those luxuriating beasts of men

Sprinkle us on their beds, trample our tender bodies

Under their heavy feet–crush and crush– and next

Morning throw us out, all faded and unpetalled.

‘Offering all our priceless tender sweet lives

At your feet, aren’t we lost,lost? Having

Plundered our youth, beauty, you sweep us away

With a broom! Do men have any ethics?

You are born in the land of the Buddha,

Why is natural love just dead in you?

O murderer, murdering beauty,

Tainted indeed is your human birth.

For God’s sake leave your worship,

Don’t cut our innocent throats!

Oh! What grace can you earn

Killing us with your own hands?’

Thus admonished by the flowers–so

I thought–I had no hands to pick them;

To report the matter to the Lord

Thence I came, all empty-handed.

[1944, trans K Godavari Sharma.]

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Posted in Religion, Uttarakhand

The descent of the gods of Uttarakhand

Akedarnath-temple-and-mountain

The mountains have received their first snowfall. As winter sets in, the temples in the high mountains of Uttarakhand are getting ready to close. The dates have already been announced. The gods and goddesses from these will move down to their winter abodes, and return again in May.  Many rituals accompany this annual journey. After a special bath, puja and worship, the image of the deity is placed in a decorated palanquin, ready to be carried. A band accompanies it for some distance, then devotees and pilgrims continue the journey. After more rituals the deity is installed in its winter temple. Worship will continue there till the gods return.

Kedarnath, Badrinath,  Gangotri and Yamunotri, are the most important temples, known as the ‘char dham’, though others close down too. Kedarnath is one of the names of the god Shiva, at Badrinath the god Vishnu is worshipped. Gangotri and Yamunotri represent the rivers Ganga and Yamuna.

This year, Gangotri, the abode of the goddess Ganga, will be the first to close on 31 October. Yamunotri and Kedarnath will close on 1 November, Badrinath on 16 November. The goddess Ganga goes to her winter temple in village Mukhba, the goddess Yamuna to Kharsali.  The deity of Kedarnath descends to Ukhimath, and of Badrinath to Joshimath.

Pilgrims to the temples were fewer after the great floods of 2013, but reached 15 lakh [1.5 million] this year.

 

Posted in Art, Festivals

Children’s Day and the Black Carp

In Japan, black carp were known for their courage and strength, and streamers and banners  depicting these carp were used as symbols by samurai warriors. The streamers or ‘windsocks’ are known as Koinobori, while the carp are known as koi.

Today Koinobori are used on Children’s Day, 5 May. A pole is planted with a colourful streamer above, a black carp streamer below, representing the father, and then a red carp streamer for the mother, with smaller and different coloured streamers representing the children. Initially Children’s Day was known as Tango no sekku, or Boy’s Day, and was only to honour sons. It used to be celebrated according to the lunar calendar, but was fixed on 5 May, after Japan began using the lunar calendar. Girl’s Day was on 3 March. But in 1948, Boys Day was renamed Children’s Day, celebrating the happiness of both boys and girls, and 5 May became a national holiday.  Apart from carp streamers, a kintaro doll too is depicted, riding on a carp. Kintaro is a folk hero, a child with superhuman strength.  One of Kintaro’s fictional exploits, was the capture of a black carp.

In the Edo period , black carp were were popular with great artists who often depicted them in paintings or woodblocks.

Black carp have been selectively bred to create ‘brocade carp’. Selective breeding actually started in Japan in the 1820s, but today this has been refined, and these coloured carp are kept in ornamental ponds. White and red, known as Kohaku, are the most popular. Decorative carp are now avavilable across the world.

Masuji Ibuse [1898-1993], famous for his novel Black Rain, on the aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima, also wrote The Carp, a story of friendship. Crazy Iris [Kakitsubata] is another of his works on Hiroshima, a species of Iris distorted by radiation.

Posted in Dehradun, Trees

Preserving forests

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On 11 September National Forest Martyrs Day was observed at the Forest Research Institute, Dehradun, depicted above. How many are aware that there is such a day? In 1730 more than 360 people were killed in Khejarli, in present Rajasthan, while protecting the khejri trees that the then king of Jodhpur state, wanted to cut down.All of them belonged to the Bishnoi, a group that continues to protect trees and animals. In the 1970s there was the chipko movement, where people in present Uttarakhand clung to trees to stop them being cut down. And since independence, more than 1400 foresters have been killed protecting forests and wildlife. Yet few seem to understand the importance of trees, and despite tree plantation drives, existing trees are constantly being cut.

People don’t seem to realize that trees are living beings. They communicate with one another, perhaps if we have enough sensitivity they would communicate with us too. According to various studies, they sleep at night, and cry out when being cut, though at a frequency we cannot hear. They absorb pollutants, provide oxygen, and shelter birds and other creatures. What would our planet be like without trees? Perhaps we will soon find out!

 

Posted in book review., Books, History, Literature

Red Scarf Girl

 A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution  by Ji-Li Jiang [Harper Collins, 1998].

Many years ago I was involved in a project on post-Mao China. Reading through copies of the Beijing Review, I was captivated by the Chinese method of encapsulating long statements and concepts in a couple of words. Of course, the ‘double hundred’, was easy to understand, it was Mao’s policy stating ‘Let a hundred flowers bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend,’ but several others were not so simple. The ‘two whatevers’  referred to following whatever policy Mao laid down, and whatever instructions he gave, which in the post-Mao period was not recommended.  ‘Eating from the same pot’, meant that everyone got the same payment, regardless of the amount and quality of the work done, while ‘the iron rice bowl’ was a term for a permanent job, which could not be terminated on any grounds.  Even some longer phrases were intriguing, for instance, ‘The Kremlin wants to pluck the ripe apple and put it in the basket.’ In this case, the ‘ripe apple’ was a reference to Iran.

I was reminded of all this when I read Red Scarf Girl, and the key phrases, the‘Four Olds’ and the ‘Four News’. Red Scarf Girl by  Ji-Li Jiang, is actually a book for young people, describing Ji-Li’s life between the ages of twelve and fourteen, at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, which lasted from 1966-1976. The red scarf they proudly wore was a symbol representing communism and Mao. The name ‘Ji-Li’ means ‘lucky and beautiful’, and Ji-Li was a happy young girl till she was twelve. In the prologue to the book she says, ‘I never doubted what I was told: “Heaven and earth are great, but greater still is the kindness of the Communist Party; father and mother are dear, but dearer still is Chairman Mao.”’

Ji-Li’s family lived in Shanghai. Her father was a theatre actor, who also loved reading and was knowledgeable about all sorts of things. Her mother worked in a sports store, and her grandmother had been the vice-principal of a school.  The family included Ji-Li’s younger brother and sister, as well as a housekeeper, who had been their nanny and was was like a family member. There was also a pet cat, to complete the household.

Chairman Mao’s picture adorned her classroom, and was respected and revered. Ji-Li was a bright and confident girl, who excelled in school and had many friends. Her life began to change when a Liberation Army member from the Arts Academy, visited their class and chose Ji-Li as one of the students to audition for entry into this Academy. When an excited Ji-Li shared this news with her parents and grandmother, they asked her not to go for the audition, and explained that she would not be selected, because of a wrong background. Later, Ji-li learnt that her father was the son of a landlord. In the new China landlords were criticised,  yet  tradition mingled with the new, as the background and ancestors of a family were still considered important. Every day the people of China listened to Chairman Mao on the importance of removing the ‘Four Olds’, old ideas, old culture, old customs, and old habits, but did not seem to realise that  looking at a family through its background, could also be one of the ‘four olds’, an inability to break with the past.

As the Cultural Revolution set in, the names of shops reflecting old culture had to be changed, for instance ‘Great Prosperity Market.’ ‘Prosperity’, ‘good fortune’, ‘innocent’ and even ‘peace’ were among names considered part of old culture. ‘Prosperity’, for instance, could only be achieved by exploitation, and ‘good fortune’ indicated superstition. Clothes too reflected the old, such as pointed shoes and  pants with narrow legs. At first Ji-li and her siblings felt proud and excited to contribute to the new way of life and wondered why their parents and grandmother were not as enthusiastic, when initially they had been staunch supporters of Chairman Mao. Gradually Ji-li felt increasingly confused, as the ‘Four Olds’ were extended to all walks of life, and youngsters gained the right  to torment others. Respecting parents, teachers and elders, long hair worn in braids, the prevailing educational system, protecting one’s own property, storing old clothes of the pre-revolutionary period, reading stories from other lands, were all among the ‘four olds’. Even pictures of people of the past wearing long gowns or mandarin jackets, were burnt. Weak students used the opportunity to criticise those who did well . Getting good marks in school was a hazard. Youngsters became Red Guards while those even younger were named Red Successors. Final exams were abolished in Ji-li’s school. She could not go to the high school of her choice. Red Guards approaching with gongs and drums ransacked houses looking for ‘four olds’. Punishments began to be meted out to older people by these young Red Guards. When Ji-li’s house was searched even her stamp album was taken away. Her father was detained, her mother and grandmother suffered.

Confused by what was going on, Ji-li even thought of changing her name and repudiating her family, something she was encouraged to do. But finally the love for her family prevailed. One thing that stands out in this book, is that there was no discrimination on the basis of religion. Ji-li and her family were Muslims, and there were very few in Shanghai, but among all the problems they faced, this was not one of them.

The Cultural Revolution had some good points, it emphasized equality, the dignity of labour and the need to forget about a ‘glorious heritage’ and move into the future. But everything was taken to  illogical extremes. Behind this revolution were  political struggles  and Mao’s attempts to retain his power. Gradually the extreme phase of the Cultural Revolution subsided, and after Mao’s death in 1976, China began to rethink its policies. According to statistics 1.5 million people died during the Cultural Revolution. Many were killed by Red Guards, others committed suicide. Fighting among Red Guard factions, killed some more. Did this phase in China’s history have long-term effects? Was eliminating aspects of the past a contributing factor in making China an economic super power? Today China once again has huge inequalities.

Ji-li  moved to the USA in 1984, where she wrote this book. Though there are several books on the Cultural Revolution, this memoir is among those that provide the details of everyday life at the time,  the difficulties that so many ordinary people faced, and the insanity of those times. Other memoirs include Ji Xianlin’s, The Cowshed: Memories of the Chinese Cultural Revolution; Anchee Min’s Red Azalea, and several more.

 

Posted in Books

Favourite Books-1

 

When I was around four years old, my family and I moved to Mt Abu where we lived in a huge house called Eagle’s Nest, perched on a small hill. Apart from the other aspects of the place, I remember the books I read there, in different corners of the house, or on a rock in the garden.  Among the earliest books, two were my favourites, Whose Little Bird am I?, and a book about a koala bear named Wish. The second was one I liked so much, that I requested twelve live Koala bears as a present for Christmas. I am not sure why despite living in India and not being Christians I was writing a letter to Father Christmas [no Santa Claus those days]. Was it because of the Catholic school I was going to? Or was it a family tradition, a remnant of British days?

My mother, a well-known writer used to review books for both adults and children, and many of my favourites were among those, perhaps Wish had arrived as a book for review, the year would be 1958. She also wrote about the oddities of her children, and my request for twelve koala bears formed one of her articles.

Looking up the internet I found Whose Little Bird am I. It is by Leonard Weisgard, and a second edition is still available on Amazon. But I could not find anything about Wish, the koala. I located a good site for old children’s books,  www.oldchildrensbooks.com, but there was nothing there on Wish.

So if anyone who reads this knows about this book, do let me know.

These two books remained my favourites, even as I progressed to more complex reading, including Enid Blyton, James Barrie’s Peter Pan, A.A. Milne’s Pooh books and poems, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. I still remember the horror I felt while reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Apart from these classics there were many more, including Wild Animals I have Known, that had several sad stories, fairy tales from across the world, poems, stories of all kinds. In non-fiction I was fascinated by The Buildings of Ancient Egypt and the Golden Book of Astronomy.

We moved from there when I was around eight or nine. Before that I had started on adult fiction. The very first adult book I read was called Capitan China. I never forgot it as for an eight-year old or perhaps eight-and-a-half, it was fascinating and scary.  Looking it up on the net I found it was by Susan Yorke, first published in 1961, it must have been one of my mother’s review books that I picked up. If I remember right, this was about a Malay peasant girl, planting rice, who looks up, finds that no one observes her, and decides to walk away. Many adventures follow, she lands up in a brothel, is sold to some king or chief, has to make a journey across the seas to him, and along the journey has an Italian guard–he teaches her about the world, answers her simple questions on life and god, and they fall in love. Was his name Cavileri? Perhaps. Anyway reaching their destination, she is given to Cavileri as a gift by the king, they are married [?], but she has this horrid job of counting heads in some war, and as Cavileri is fighting in the war,she one day gets his cut off head. Going off in grief into the jungle, she is bitten by a snake and dies.  I remember this book as its powerful story haunted me for many years, and I reread it several times, though perhaps if I had read it as an adult, it would not have meant much.

On the net I find Susan Yorke was born 24 March 1915 in Mannheim, Germany, moved to Australia in 1965, and died 4 May 1997 in Sydney, New South Wales. She wrote thirteen books.