Friday, October 31, 2014

Muslim Krishna Bhakts - A myth or reality


True, there's been overwhelming response to the previous blog on
 'Muslim Krishna bhakts'. 

Within four days, the piece has recorded page views of 102.........my first century since 2010 when I started the blog page. Ask cricketers and cricket fans, what does it mean ---yes it makes a difference. It's 'difference' - like that tomato sauce ad used to propound!

Notwithstanding 102 page views to the particular blog and average over 50 views in last two days, the piece has not fetched much comments either on social networking sites or formally to the blog itself. But a few friends including from abroad have spoken about it and even shared their views in private messages. 
Some of them are worth sharing it out but by applying the golden rule of Journalism that a source who wants to remain anonymous should remain unnamed, I cannot reveal the names of the individuals.
A learned friend said jokingly,  : do I have to have views on everything?
Well, taking a cue from the Late P V Narasimha Rao, I ought to say, "not to give opinion is also an opinion".
Right or wrong? Or both? Well, this was on the lighter side.

More seriously, among few mails/messages, worth mentioning here: a common refrain especially from Muslim friends have been:

"the concept of Krishna Bhakts among Muslims is a misnomer and a mere propaganda." 


Obviously, a few named ISKCON. We will not go into it.

Another reaction was equally exemplary: 

There is no manifestly any such individual or a sect of Krishna bhakts. But certainly the mystical orders in Islam especially which flourished in India during last one thousand years definitely have Hindu Philosophical concepts partially or fully adopted to justify their legality (read acceptability) for the non-Muslim audience.

Another comment was quite run-of-the-mill kind:  

--- You find exceptions in almost every religion. Respect for each religion is cherished by some individuals and yes, Muslims too respect other religion from the core of their heart - possibly like Hindus respect Sikhism or there could be Jesus Christ bhakts (or admirers) among Hindus and Jains too.

Monday, October 27, 2014

"Muslim Devotees of Lord Krishna" -- an upcoming Promising book


In this festive season, I have been trying to read something unusual. It’s a manuscript of a proposed book with a potentially high-impulsive title ‘Muslim Devotees of Lord Krishna’. 
Yup, its still not a book!!
Between wisdom and compassion there could be always a debate over which one actually precedes the other. The life of Lord Krishna and his teachings on the context of what he preaches Arjuna perhaps offers an answer to that debate. From a blogger perspective, similarly, there is a strong link between the spiritual capital and the intellectual capital. In the context of Indian civilization, the spiritual capital is far bigger than its estimation. Whatever is projected is only a miniscule of the whole. Thus, there could be anomalies if the spiritual capital is not understood properly.

The time and teachings of Lord Krishna offer certain answers.

Frankly, my interest in this proposed book at hand, ‘Muslim Devotees of Lord Krishna’ arose from this curiosity. Now, about writing a sort of a preview on the book; it takes certain confidence in any case to agree to write a few paras. But it takes great arrogance to agree to write on a subject you hardly know.

Is not the subject of the book, ‘Muslim Krishna-bhaktas’ itself so bewildering?

Importantly, much confounding is one’s knowledge about Dharma and its relation to Lord Krishna and his message. Moreover the subject of the book is also readily political and thus controversial. But it’s juicy, my journalism has always encouraged me to explore.

The author of this book, Dipankar Deb is younger to me by age and thus the need to encourage him surpasses everything else perhaps.
Anyways, in my judgement, Lord Krishna’s messages generally revolved around Karma (action) and Moksha (Redemption). Dharma again in Hindu civilizational context is an ideal or an ethical code of life. Now the obvious question, whether fulfillment of that Dharma itself – for instance following the teachings of Krishna – could bring us true happiness.

The book brings out salient features of a few individual but interesting Muslim-born Krishna-bhakts and there in perhaps remain a few answers. Lord Krishna’s teachings – especially in the form of articulation to war-bound Arjuna – lay entire emphasis on a selfless journey.
Here the goal and the means seems to be the Karma; - an action devoid of emotion, affection, ego and personal consciousness.

“You cry for those for whom you need not cry,” Lord Krishna tells Arjuna.
To my understanding this singular rhetoric is the most operative part of the Bhagavad Gita as Krishna dissuades Arjun from falling victim to emotions and almost run away from the battle field. Lord Krishna reminds the Pandava prince that it is the Dharma that has brought him to the battlefield and the utter truth that the ‘self’ is neither born nor it would die.
Krishna Mandir at Kuala Lumpur
 If the spiritual and moral essence of these basic teachings is understood, one has conquered the happiness. Muslim individuals too could agree on this, without doubt.

My stance also is: perhaps these basics of an ideal Hindu life can easily attract people from other religions to the teachings of Lord Krishna.
In fact, here lies the relevance of this book as it tries to bring in a few interesting stories from a reader’s perspective. 
There is mention about ‘devotees from the Middle East’ being apprehensive to talk to the author as they fear angry reactions from Islamic fanatics in their own countries. This is a fascinating area from a journo’s point of view.

Although an admirer of Lord Krishna, I am not a hardcore devotee thus my interest on Him revolves around politics. My favourite chapter in this book is ‘Beyond Fanaticism and Secularism’. The emphasis here is to co-relate religion with ethics and thus the chapter runs, “real peace and freedom are guaranteed not by the materialistic or secular state but the state whose leaders and followers pursue highest ideal of self-realization”.
Secular and enlightened readers would also find the compendium interesting as it profiles Muslim Krishna bhaktas from across the globe – from Bangladesh to Bosnia.


I pick up for you the story of a Kazakh painter, Satchitananda Das. Again a poem in beautiful Brajabuli language by Nasir Mamud is worth referring. 
Finally, when the book is out, I am sure its pages would be worth turning. 

(watch out for his space)

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Namo's Media Outreach: Pledges to improve the ties


Even as 2002 anti-Muslim mayhem had tarnished his image and also greatly spoiled his relationship with media, in the subsequent decade, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had exploited Facebook and Twitter, where he has a large fan-following, to transform himself to a protagonist of development and a catalyst of change.
Modi in action with a camera
Thus, his Deepawali Milan at BJP headquarter and interaction with journalists and senior editors on October 25, 2014 would stand out as an important day of the calendar. But as usual it stood as a mere cosmetic yet again where Modi cleverly avoided fielding questions.  Prime Minister Modi, who has often disapproved of uncomfortable questions from journalists and television anchors, in his first media interaction however today did not field any question from the invited galaxy of editors and news reporters. Instead he sprang a surprise when in a unique friendly gesture, he took the camera of a BJP’s official photographer and clicked the cameraman’s photo instead. Today's media outreach came just a day before the Prime Minister hosts a brief get together for NDA allies tomorrow, October 26.
 The occasion was 'Deepawali Milan', organised at the BJP headquarters at 11, Ashoka Road. The rare media interaction took place at a time when his government completes 5 months' brief but eventful stint on October 26. Prime Minister had taken over the reins of power on May 26 after recording a landslide victory, something of a record in last four decades.
Mr Modi, who in 1990s used to stay at the party headquarters as a party office-bearer before becoming Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2001, said in a brief speech laced with characteristic humour, “I used to arrange chairs here waiting for you. 
Those were different days when we used to interact freely. I had a beautiful relationship with you and it helped me in Gujarat.”
Fondly recalling that relationship, the Prime Minister, who has not formally met the media since he took over, said he was looking for ways to further deepen and expand it. “Some way will be found. It is important to interact with media directly rather than the reportage and articles," 
said Prime Minister, who has in fact cherished and rightfully exploited the social networking sites much to his personal image building over the years. 
Even after taking over as Prime Mnister, while he ordered improvement of social networking reach of the government apparatus, he also had surprised media when he cancelled media team accompanying Prime Ministers for trip abroad. “By interacting directly, one gets to know things which media persons cannot report. Not only does one get information but also vision, which is very valuable,” he remarked.

The entire top brass of the government and BJP was present. They included the party President Amit Shah, senior ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Prakash Javdekar. The stage, decorated with flowers, had a huge party poster with the images of a smiling prime minister 
and BJP president Amit Shah. The Prime Minister sat flanked by Shah and Home Minister Rajnath Singh on either side on the stage. This was perhaps also a political signal as the trio of Amit Shah, Modi and Rajnath Singh are today running the affairs of the party.

In the ultimate, the message was very simple: Known as a Prime Minister for keeping the media at an arm's length, Narendra Modi tried to reach out to the members of the fourth estate, which has often lashed out at him for his alleged totalitarian style of functioning. The Prime Minister in fact lauded journos for 
rendering their critical support to his pet project of 'Swach Bharat (Clean India Campaign)'.
Telling journalists that “you have transformed your pen into broom,” Mr Modi in his characteristic style said, “Of all the recent media coverage, I have not seen any report in which effort was not made to inspire people to strive for a clean India". 
 “The thinking earlier was that everything will be done by the government. Now the thought is that we will all work together," he told a gathering over 400 journalists including senior editors and others. 
After his monologue address, Prime Minister much to the surprise of many
including security personnel got down to personally interact with editors and journalists. He was happily seen posing for selfies with the media personnel. The interaction over tea was followed by lunch.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"We aren't peace activists" --- Interview with senior journalist Bertil Lintner

Once 'blacklisted' in Asia, Swedish journalist Bertil Lintner has been writing about conflict-prone Myanmar and north-east India for nearly four decades. With many sources in the military and militant camps, he was the first foreign journalist to learn about Aung San Suu Kyi's release from house arrest in 1995. His first book, 'Land of Jade: A Journey from India through Northern Burma to China', had provoked angry reactions from Naga militants. 
(Interview  published in The Statesman) 
With Bertil and northeast friends
# To start with, as someone who has been keeping an eye on northeast and Myanmar region from 1980s, so far more than three decades, what really is your take on issues about conflict resolution and the role of the journalists in that?

Bertil Lintner: It’s not an easy task for a journalist to write about any war including these conflicts in the northeastern India and adjoining countries like Myanmar. It is obviously not possible to go back and forth between two warring parties, so possibly one has to stay on one side the conflict one way or the other. But as I wrote in ‘Land of Jade’, my book about trek through northern Myanmar from 1985-1987, my desire has been always to be objective and factual. That is our role actually rather than glorifying various armies or rebels involved.

# I would also like to know on what you feel about ‘peace journalism’; that perhaps tends to make journalist an activist?

Bertil Lintner: Some people do talk about 'peace journalism', but to me that is a dangerous approach to the kinds of conflicts I have covered and still covering. My worst fear is if you see promoting peace as a goal or an objective, it is very easy to become biased. Then you would filtered information and write only about what you think may serve the purpose of promoting peace. That, I am afraid, will lead to distorted views of reality ...... simply because truth is always not very pleasant.

# You have traveled across Nagaland and Manipur in 1980s and more recently as well and had also interviewed militant leaders like Isak Chishi Swu of NSCN. Over the years, the NSCN, especially the faction led by Swu and Muivah has emerged a potent group. How do you look back at this group’s growth ?

Bertil Lintner: I was accused of abusing the NSCN’s hospitality because I stayed with them for more than two months and then I did not write the kind of propaganda they had expected. I was often appalled by the way in which Indian Nagas treated the Myanmar Nagas. I had to write about that as well as religious fanaticism. The outcome was that the NSCN had banned my book ‘Land of Jade’. The truth was probably too unpleasant even for the NSCN’s leadership. The situation was very similar in the area then controlled by the Communist Party of Burma. They wanted to possibly write along the lines, ‘Red Star over Myanmar’. I did not. Instead I wrote how the ethnic the leaders of the CPB used the hill tribe population under their control.
# Then can you sum up for us, what should be ideally the duty of the journalists in such conflict situations?

Bertil Lintner: I and my family once survived the attack of Myanmar forces on the NSCN camp. But I have stuck to my job as a journalist. As I see it, the duty of the journalists is to be as objective as possible. To give the news impartially without fear or favour regardless of sects or interests involved. It’s only then that we journalists can be seen as doing our job as  professionals. My stand is same about conflict situation reporting also as only when the truth is properly reported or exposed and explained impartially can different parties in an ethnic or social conflict sit down and solve their differences.

# Can you share now something about your travels and stay in Bangladesh, another country that has witnessed lot of conflicts?

Bertil Lintner: In 1990, I was actually invited by the Bangladesh government to visit Chittagong Hill Tracts to see the progress in implementing a new autonomy scheme. I told my editors then at 'Far Eastern Economic Review' that I should also visit Chakma refugee camps in Tripura. I did go to Chittagong Hill Tracts and flew around with a Bangladesh army commander and met people in presence of him. But did not tell them about my plans to visit Chakma refugee camps in Agartala in India. When I actually did that later soon after their hospitality, the Bangladeshi authorities also thought that I had betrayed their hospitality. So to sum up, we journalists are not especially popular in certain quarters and we can’t be. But I am an old-fashioned enough to believe that we have an important role to fill in the conflict areas, and that is to report objectively.

# Now, coming to reality, what do you think is happening in Myanmar? Now that they have a sort of democracy?

Bertil Lintner: It is not going at the right direction. Largely, the democracy is also controlled democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi too has failed it seems. 

# What happens when a journalist is a popular or a well known face in the media and the outside world? Does presence of someone above or around impact a peace process in conflict areas?

Bertil Lintner: I have told you enough on how a reporter should stick to factual reporting without any bias – other than the deep consideration for all the innocent people either sides afflicted by the conflicts and violence. My job is present the readers the truth. In the long run, I have seen, the truth is always the strongest weapon for solving conflicts. As a reporter, I am at best an educator but not a peace activist. My reports and analyses should help people working in conflict areas and the governments to see the problems more clearly. But what should be done is up to them; not to me.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Handloom Bonanza : A major attraction for Festival Season


The newly inaugurated Handloom Marketing complex run under the aegis of the union Textiles Ministry at Janpath in New Delhi has come alive these days with the rich handloom works during the fortnight long Exhibition. The ‘Handloom of India’ Exhibition-cum-sale of exquisite handloom fabrics from across the country from October 9 to October 22, 2014 offers a unique collection of cotton and silk sarees, dress materials, furnishings, dupattas and salwar suits.

“This is a unique venue and sort of an ideal location at the busy Janpath at a stone’s throw from market in the heart of the national capital,” says Rahul Varapatre from Bhandara in Maharashtra running a stall with his uncle.



In fact, the office of Development Commissioner for Handlooms has constructed this Complex with cost of Rs 42 crore. The Ministry of Urban Development and Poverty Alleviation, Government of India had allotted 1.779 acres of land to the Ministry of Textiles for construction of the marketing complex. Besides the permanent shops, the marketing complex has a provision for a ‘Dilli Haat’ type atmosphere where weavers from different parts of the country will be invited to exhibit and sell their handloom products. 
Among a special attraction is Rs 2 lakh worth Patola Saree at the Sanskriti Silk counter from Surendranagar in Gujarat. “This saree requires at least one year for two weavers to give the final touch. This is among our classic high-priced collection,” remarks a beaming counter-assistant.
Patola saris are a double-woven sari, usually made from silk originally a rich heritage of Gujarat’s Patan district. “The word Patola is the plural form, it’s also known as Patalu,” he says. Patola-weaving is actually a “closely guarded family tradition”. To create a Patola sari, both the warp and weft threads are wrapped to resist the dye according to the desired pattern of the final woven fabric. “One unique feature is that the bundles of thread are strategically knotted before dyeing,” he adds. Besides Rs 2 lakh unique collection special piece (see photograph); the counter has other good products in the price range from Rs 14,000 to Rs 18,000.
The exhibition venue has similarly good offerings of Banarasi sarees in outlets set up by weavers and their sale-wings from places like Varanasi and Azamgarh. “Our collection ranges between Rs 1500 to Rs 18,000 and thus there is quite a good demand,” says Tanvir Ahmed of Mubarakpur Handloom, Azamgarh. 
Rs 2 lakh worth Patola Saree from Gujarat
In another counter run by award wining weaver Jallis Ahmed’s team, the Banarasi sarees collection ranges up to Rs 35,000. “The Jamawar collection of Banarasi sarees are our prized collection. These sarees can be weaved and given final shape in about 2 months time,” says P  Sharma at the counter.
“Jallis saheb’s weave designing is quite famous. He received the national award in 1990. One of our unique collection is the kind of weaving fusion we have brought between Muga of Assam and Katan of Varanasi,” he says proudly displaying a unique collection worth over Rs 10,000.
What’s the idea behind weaving fusion?
“It’s only an innovation. Over the decades, the Banarasi silk handloom industry has been suffering huge losses because of competition from mechanised units producing the Baranasi silk saris at a faster rate and at cheaper cost. Moreover, another source of competition has been sarees made of cheaper synthetics. We are trying to address these issues,” he says.
The collection at the first floor of the exhibition venue also offers good collection of Jamdani and Uppada sarees.

Good rush has been also reported at the outlets from other states like Rajasthan, Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar West Bengal and Maharashtra.

An weaver himself, Govinda in Mangram Resham counter from Birbhum district in West Bengal, says, the lowest collection in the counter is common cotton saree worth Rs 550”. “But our strong point in terms of sales is wide range of products in Jamdani and Matka varieties”.

He does not like to take further questions on pricing and chuckles rather smartly: Bengal sarees like Matka and Jamdani are one of the most time and labor-intensive forms of hand loom weaving and hence what matters is quality.

“Jamdani products are a mixture of cotton and gold threads. Either figured or flowered, jamdani is a woven fabric and is fabulously rich in motifs,” he explains adding Jamdani is a fine muslin cloth on which decorative motifs are woven on the loom, typically in grey and white.
Display of a Banarasi Saree
In another West Bengal counter, Nabapally from Birbhum, West Bengal, weaver Y Hussain says, “Naksi Khata variety in price range of Rs 7000 has gone down well with visitors”.
This year, he says, a unique blending ‘Baul collection of Sarees’ based on life-style theme of world famous Baul singers is too doing well. “In this category price range is from Rs 12,000 to Rs 25,000,” he says.
 The sarees from Rajasthan and Maharashtra’s print works both on sarees and salwar suits have also gone down well.
 By and large the exhibition has proved successful and visitors and customers are making beelines taking advantage of the festive season. 
Officials in the Textile Ministry say, the new venue Handloom House was set up to create a permanent marketing outlet that will enable handloom agencies to augment their sales as well as also make available quality handloom products to the discerning consumers.
“Looking at the response, the efforts have yielded results, I can say,” says one of them.
The move to organize such exhibition and sales outlets also reflect the government’s sincerity to boost textile sector in the country. This year’s exhibition has thus given opportunity to small-time organization from places like Ranchi, ‘Bereozgar Mahila Kalyan Kendra’, to sell their products from Jharkhand. 
The government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is already working on a new Textiles Policy.

The handloom sector in the country provides employment to 43.31 lakh persons engaged on 23.77 lakh handlooms across the country. It also accounts for 11 per cent of textile production and makes a significant contribution in export earnings. Because of the uniqueness and exclusivity of designs, capability to produce small batch sizes and being eco-friendly fabric, handloom products are in high demand in domestic and international market, say officials. 

“There is also immense demand for handloom products in the niche domestic market wherein not only consumers, discerning retailers look for reliable source for constant supply of authentic handloom products on regular basis.” 

The Ministry of Textiles, Government of India, has rightly taken many initiatives from time to time such as organizations of domestic marketing events, participation in international fairs and buyer-seller meets and other such strategies to provide a marketing support to handloom 
weavers. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Child labour bogey could sabotage India’s manufacturing ambitions!

Thanks to Bachpan Bachao Andolan’s Kailash Satyarthi winning the Nobel Peace Prize with Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan, perhaps the ‘child labour’ debate will be back in focus in India. My worst fear is it is coming at a time when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the right noise about pushing manufacturing --- a much neglected area -- in the country. And there’s a distinct pattern in ‘neglecting’ the growth of manufacturing sector. It suited the western countries and their industrial giants and within India it suited the ‘traders’ who essentially thrive in the business of  ‘bis taka margin’ or 10 per cent cut!


The vision statement of www.makeinindia.gov.in commits to achieve for the country among other things an increase in manufacturing sector growth to 12-14 % per annum, increase in the share of manufacturing in the country’s Gross Domestic Product to 25% by 2022 and importantly to create 100 million additional jobs by 2022 in the manufacturing sector alone. These are quite highly ambitious targets given the background that the manufacturing sector in India, which accounts for fourth-fifth of the total output, grew a meagre 3.3 per cent in January 2010.
Along with the thrust on ‘manufacturing’, the Prime Minister’s  “skills, scale and speed” formula and ‘skilled India’ vision have really infused the much needed enthusiasm if not the hope.

Over the years the National Skill Development Policy since 2009 was only pursued as a piecemeal approach at best and in fact as a mirage. In the name of skill enhancement, people just provide theoretical training, which can well be imparted easily in our existing “white-collar job oriented” schools and colleges. As a working journalist, I can relate it very easily when I get to interact with the students of modern journalism institutes. These aspiring journos have been basically taught swimming by people who have not swam themselves!

Thus, my emphasis on oft-repeated argument in news rooms when we have to deal with post-graduate journalism certificate holders. For competency-based training, we need actual hands on experience much like a medical degree, where working in hospital is a must. A motor mechanic in your neighbourhood thus can do a much better job as against a so called certificate holder.
In some sectors especially handicrafts and cottage industries, moreover that necessary skill can come only when you have learned it at a tender age. 
This blog is not making any effort to justify child labour. But …….there are a few issues nevertheless.  

Because I did not learn driving at a young age, though driving is not a rocket science and though I have a driving license; I do not have the confidence of driving in a city like Delhi. In some ‘original cottage industry and handicrafts’ hubs from Uttar Pradesh to West Bengal; the child labour laws and NGO-ism have ultimately only harmed these sectors.
And as there have been a vacuum; who has filled in that space, albeit money-spinning space: obviously the western corporate houses. So carpet is quality carpet today in India if it has a ‘phoren’ name.
Actually, these child labour issues have been rightfully exploited by the western lobbies to suit in their interest and push if not dump their products. Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi will do a yeoman’s service if he does not disturb the future manufacturing initiatives in our country. 
The Bharat Ratna would duly await him till then.

Now that he the virtual global legitimacy of raising his ‘child labour’ bogey at the drop of a hat, he should do it more responsibly. 
The same advocates of ‘child labour’ bogey has seldom expressed concern over the western education system that we have latched on and that also adds to the agony of a modern Indian child not only mentally but also physically. The size of the school bags is only a tip of iceberg.

The quantum of so called home task a 6-7 year-old expected to churn out every week is equivalent to tasking a youngone to work in menial jobs. Here another crucial unlearning that takes place in the mind of a child is: home tasks are to be done by her parents and if there are some ‘projects and making of a collage’ is not done by her mummy; these are “purchaseable” in shops.
 
There’s another dichotomy. The so called western-lobby influenced jhola-wallahas (more to do with external funding than commitment) have perhaps not realized that while we tend to lampoon at a youngster’s ‘White Collar job syndrome’, we do not realize that the youngster was brought up with a curriculum that produces only white collar job seekers. There was also no protest when engineers were forced with LUCRATIVE OFFERS to work as sales men and women, simply because they were pushing American products. 


Few years back I had interviewed a woman German documentary film maker. Notwithstanding her anti-American bias, her argument that even the over-population bogey is only a US creation and that also post-Vietnam War actually carried conviction. She suggested that her experience with working with a "very poor family" in Bangladesh revealed that number of children did not matter much, what mattered was how they could be utilized for income generation. 
Nobel winner Mohammad Yunus's loan scheme in Bangladesh faced  corruption charges

Monday, October 6, 2014

Heart Alone - A short story


  An attempted short story, I would not have possibly written this had not my 12-year-old niece Akanksha Singh (Anku) encouraged me to emulate her favourite author Roald Dahl….In fact, 'niece' is a key protagonist in this work; though I admit, this story is still not a children fiction.........
my niece: Anku

Heart Alone

As the darkness deepened, the clock in the hotel room started ticking louder. His brother signaled all others in the room with his eyes, let us go. All went out leaving Parthapratim alone, feeling embarrassed. A verdict was passed about couple of hours back and as a dutiful eldest son, Parthapratim agreed to abide by it. The verdict was from his father. Parthapratim’s marriage with Arati has been cancelled.
Staring at the roof above, Parthapratim thought wildly. The difference between being a good son and what is important for a ‘good son’ is often blurry, he thought occasionally. The wooden cot unlike last two nights creaked every time he tried to sleep. He would wake up at times and strode up and down the room, pursing his lips – more by habit and then come back to the bed.


The reading light was still on. He tried to leaf through a few pages from a book he was carrying. It was a history book. Parthapratim is a student of literature but like one of his teachers had advised, he had developed liking for history too.

In one of the pages, he came across a line that read “The soldier must conquer the pain and the melancholy of the passions.” – Napoleon.
This again left him bewildered. He was not entirely clueless about what was happening to him.
Parthapratim would try to piece together his argument but every time he tried something like this, he felt hit by emotions, fear. What would others say? How would his parents respond? Is he right? Will he be right, if he takes a stand otherwise?

The memories would only pile up to distract him from his present thought.

‘Go to sleep’, his inner voice would echo too. ‘You are wasting time, a coward cannot be rebel’, the inner voice virtually chuckled once again.
Parthapratim found himself handicapped by the inability to debate the moral questions. He was closing the discussion.

 Human habits too can often enslave people. So as he changed sides turned the pillow upside down, suddenly - post mid-night he felt asleep, fast asleep.
What a wonderful feeling to fall asleep in a fit of tears.
Master story teller: Roald Dahl
Sleep, as they say is a true engine of mental and spiritual dispersal. There was an uneasy calm in his room.
 Dawn often comes reluctantly.
Next morning he found himself walking along the riverside. The temple too was nearby. But did God have a solution to a problem where he had to take a call?

The river as in this part of the year generally looked an endless stretch of sand. There were, however, stagnant pools of muddy water where the water flow has been disturbed. Parthapratim thought life is also like this, may be. Some stagnant pools in everyman’s life would stop the water flow.
But why such thoughts should crop up in his mind?

Sitting on the verandah of the temple, he was unmindful, staring mostly towards the ceiling decorated with good paintings. The question of right and wrong, duties, responsibility and also perhaps something called inner call of a man have always been part of reality people have to live with.

Gradually the sun broke through the clouds. He was least startled. But suddenly he remembered his niece too was with him. For the 6-year-old something, it was a morning walk along the riverside. A brief stopover at the temple. A momentary bowing down! Blessings, as her mom had taught her.

“Mamu,” the innocent Kajal screamed mildly. The softness of the innocuous call touched Parthapratim. Barefoot, other worshippers like Kajal knelt; some dutifully touched their forehead on the floor and the untidy jute carpet in front of the sanctum sanctorum. It was not a crowded place yet but slowly devotees’ numbers were growing. The town had temples everywhere, virtually everywhere despite the township having a history of political commitment to Marxism, the supposed theory of agnostic people.
 To Pathapratim, God was hardly the subject of a debate nor solution. He was debating perhaps more about right and wrong and he knew; the answer to the puzzle lay within him. He walked slowly towards Kajal, on his left a few pigeons grazed on the plaza outside the temple. A big smile flickered across his niece Kajal’s face.

“What’s new aunt doing now Mamu; is she in hospital? Why you cancelled your marriage? You know, I prayed for her. Mummy says prayers always help who are in pain,” Kajal chuckled her sentences rapidly.

Parthapratim only blinked, perhaps looking for an answer. Kajal again spoke. This time putting a much sharper question, “Mamu did you pray for my new aunt?” Kajal elbowed her way to reach her Mamu --- as if eliciting an answer from him was her foremost priority now.

As Pathapratim stood clueless to many questions put by 6-year-old Kajal, on her part Kajal suddenly told him, “Mamu let’s go home” – as if by now she knew her questions were unusual and her Mamu had no answer.

They rushed down the temple stairs and started walking along the riverside to return to the hotel.
 
Parthapratim realized that as they were returning, Kajal had grown silent. She was least bothered that her questions were never answered. She appeared no longer interested whether her Mamu prayed for her new aunt. On the roadside, suddenly he saw a cat staring at him. The cat perhaps looked at him with contempt, at least Parthapratim thought so.

He was walking even slower than six-year-old niece. Was it possible that everything that was happening around was the result of some conspiracy? Did everyone around, all living and non-living creatures knew that he has abandoned the marriage once the news reached him and his family that the would-be-bride, Kajal’s supposed ‘new aunt’, had burned her face when hot water fell on her face.
 He was walking even slower than six-year-old niece. Was it possible that everything that was happening around was the result of some conspiracy? Did everyone around, all living and non-living creatures knew that he has abandoned the marriage once the news reached him and his family that the would-be-bride, Kajal’s supposed ‘new aunt’, had burned her face when hot water fell on her face.

Pathapratim again found his inner self pinching him or even mocking at him, like that roadside cat staring at him with contempt. He was walking holding the tiny innocuous hand of niece Kajal. But he felt the urge to cry out loudly. Perhaps this realization dawned him for the first time in last 12-13 hours, since his marriage was cancelled. He thought, he should sit down under the bushes and shut his eyes, sobbing.

The sun was rising fast. Walking towards eastern side, he realized that the sunlight dazzled him on his eyes. There was a burning sensation, may be. He knew the limits of a human skin; how much heat and burns it could bear. Familiar and wild birds were chirping. Some could be seen as they walked along others hiding in the thickness of leaves. Even they were singing in contempt towards Parthapratim, he again thought.

As the day progressed, the road was slowly turning busy with mayhem of pedestrians, traders and three-wheeler autos and cycle rickshaws. At last they reached the hotel.
Kajal too broke her silence. “Mamu, we are in the hotel….will you talk to new aunt, there is a phone in my room…..Dadu won’t catch you”.

Parthapratim turned towards his niece again helplessly blinking. But probably he was drawing some inspiration from her, some strength.

But unknowingly, he was still scared. Can his father take in his stride his rebellion? Will he suffer another heart attack?

“Don’t you care for your father,?” --- the entire room seems to be asking Parthapratim.
“I love my brother…I love my parents. I’m hopelessly in love with my family,” he seemed to have tried to answer on his own puzzle.

He paused for a while in his mind and tried to change the course of his mind. The heart must speak. But that heart belongs to my mother, my father and my family. That heart belongs to myself.

Why should I worry about a woman who has not yet become part of me or my family? He tried to reason.

His entire family had gathered in the room. Parents, brother, sister and her husband! The family or near and dear ones had almost surrounded him and would immediately strike up a conversation. Kajal too was there. But Parthapratim tried to avoid seeing eye to eye to Kajal. Was he scared of a six-year-old girl?

But everyone was looking towards him, he knew. Eliciting an answer from him than giving their opinion to Parthapratim seems to be on the agenda. A brief smile descended on his brother-in-law’s face. “Whatever God does, he does it for good na?,” he muttered almost hesitatingly but the words seemed to have been parroted to him. He could have possibly rehearsed half the sentence too.
On the other side, Kajal stood in silence…..as if keeping an eye on her Mamu’s movement and words. God, she knew is very powerful. But in her childlike simplicity, she was perhaps wondering, so thought Parthapratim,  why should God pour in hot water on ‘new aunt’s face’. Is God like that? What’s His shape? Does He enjoy doing such things to beautiful people ?

Parthapratim thought of answering Kajal’s father that even Kajal did not believe that whatever has happened has happened for good. But he stood silently trying to think…. Perhaps think something different. Different from all rational beings. His niece Kajal, Parthapratim knew, was not thinking rational either….but was it completely illogical?

Suddenly he felt a rush of anger on his failure to think like that six-year-old kid.
Just then the silence broke as Kajal ran out of the room. Kajal’s mother dutifully followed her. The family gathering had broken and the puzzle remained unresolved. Parthapratim too gradually walked out of the room. The silence in the room was killing. But before he could step out of the room, Kajal was swiftly back with a pen in her hand; and a blank sheet of paper.

It was a Parker pen. These pens have now become affordable unlike some decades ago when such a pen was a costly indulgence. As a journalist, Parthapratim in many a press conference got a Parker pen-set. He got lost enchanted in the power of the pen, at least for a while! Still he walked out.
Kajal ran to her grand ma and demanded that they should play some memory game or words puzzle.
In his room, Parthapratim picked up a book. Day’s morning papers did not evoke much interest to read about. Bertrand Russel’s ‘The Conquest of Happiness’ seemed to excite him. Russell wrote decades back that ‘unhappiness’ is largely due to a mistaken view of the world. Russell’s intellect always fascinated Parthapratim. 

He found him to be an epitome of uncommon wisdom. But Russell wrote things so plainly and simple. Just then he could read an ever baffling line: “Imagine how unhappy the life of a peacock would be if he had been taught that it is wicked to have a good opinion of oneself”.
He could not read further. No good was done to anybody just by remaining silence, Parthapratim thought.


Dictated by his inner call, Parthapratim walked into the room of brother-in-law. His sister was alone there. Parthapratim picked up the phone and dialed a number. Gradually he got connected to the person, he wanted to speak.

And he was least surprised to realize that he was in love with that woman.

He consoled her almost in a commanding tone, something that comes as a matter of own’s right and sense of belonging. Standing behind him, Kajal’s mother was stunned. Little did she know that her six-year-old Kajal had given her Mamu the idea to make use of the telephone from her room. 

Stunned, she asked Parthapratim, “Dada, what are you doing?”

Parthapratim grinned rather helplessly as he turned towards his sister; perhaps thanking her for giving birth to a noble soul like Kajal or was not thanking her at all. But one thing was certain; he was just not prepared to vouch for the exact truth of the story that brought a turn around in his mind and heart.  

Ends