Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Fatehpur Sikri - The Enchanting Ghost City Of India


I have always been in awe of Akbar (even before he was portrayed by Hrithik Roshan in Jodhaa Akbar), so visiting Fatehpur Sikri was something I was really looking forward to during our trip. This magnificent fortified city was founded by Emperor Akbar and served as the capital of Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585.

As the story goes, Akbar was a follower of Salim Chishti, a Sufi saint who used to live in a village of Sikri. It is in this village, Salim predicted the birth of an heir to the Mughal throne, so when the prophecy came true Akbar built his new capital here. The city was called Fatehpur Sikri or "the city of victory" as it was built after his military victories over Chittor and Ranthambore. Now, what's so phenomenal about this trip was that we got to see both sides of the coin. By Chittor, I mean the Rajputs of Mewar- Udaipur! When we were in Udaipur we heard their side of the story and agony of Mughal Empire and 5 days later we are in the city built in honor of the same war! Talk about coming back to full circle :)

The palace complex is predominantly made up of red sandstone except for the tomb of Salim Chishti which is made of white marble. The main tomb building is enclosed by delicate marble screens on all sides and has beautiful intricate carvings. It is believed that tying sacred thread on the marble screen in dargah can make your wishes come true (which we somehow we ended up tying- at a very high price too!).

Tomb of Salim Chishti
















Intricate work on marble in the Tomb


But the main attraction of complex remains Buland Darwaza or the "Gate of Magnificence" built to commemorate Akbar's victory over Gujarat. It is the main entrance to the palace at Fatehpur Sikri and stands at a staggering height of 176 ft. It is the highest gateway in the world !

Buland Darwaza


Then there is Jama Masjid, which was perhaps one of the first buildings to be constructed in this complex and looks splendid.

Jama Masjid in Fatehpur Sikri


There are many other buildings which reflect on the splendid way he ruled his empire. For example, Ibadat Khana or "House of Worship" was the place where spiritual leaders of different religions gathered to conduct discussions on the teachings of their respective religions. Built as a debate house, Akbar encouraged Hindus, Roman Catholics, Zoroastrians, Jains and even atheists to participate.

Some of the other important buildings like Khwabgah (Akbar's residence), Panch Mahal, a five-storey palace, Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience), Ankh Michauli are surrounded by a stunning ornamental pool- Anup Talao.

Anup Talao, Photo: Sandeepachetan








Khwabgah or the "House of Dreams" as the name suggests, is the most beautiful building of the royal complex and was conceived for the emperor's personal use. It has a separate room for the emperor to hold secret official meetings with his nobles, Kutub Khana or a personal library with a number of books and official documents, a small bathroom and the bedroom of Akbar. The double-storeyed red sandstone building is one of the most well planned buildings of Fatehpur Sikri. His library supposedly had about 25,000 manuscripts written in Sanskrit, Hindustani, Persian, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Kashmiri, staffed by many scholars, translators, artists, calligraphers, scribes, bookbinders and readers (and Akbar didn't know to read/write!). He was read to everyday and had a remarkable memory.

The Palace of his beloved Rajput wife (Jodha Bai/Heer Kunwari) whom he gave the title "Mariam-uz-Zamani" Begum (Mary of the Age). Jodha remained Hindu throughout her life and their marriage influenced Akbar a lot towards embracing Hindu culture. In fact, he was the first Mughal Emperor who was accepted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. During his reign, the nature of the state changed to a secular and liberal one, with emphasis on cultural integration. He also introduced several far-sighted social reforms, including prohibiting sati, legalizing widow remarriage and raising the age of marriage.

Courtyard of Jodha Bai's palace, Photo: Nadir Hashmi


Next was Birbal's House, now who can forget the famous Akbar-Birbal stories! Birbal was an advisor in the court of Akbar and was among his "Navrathna" or nine jewels (group of nine extraordinary people).

Birbal's House, Photo: Walwyn


Another interesting site is "Anarkali Darwaja" - a door through which Anarkali fled to Lahore after Akbar gave her death sentence for her implicit relationship with Prince Salim (Jahangir). Quite a controversy if you ask me!

Anarkali Darwaza









 
All in all the place is a treat for an outsider! With so many captivating stories and soulful live Sufi music playing in the background I couldn't help but loose myself in the glorious Mughal period.

But I think the inscriptions in the archway of Buland Darwaza sums it all up perfectly,

"The world is a bridge, pass over it, but build no houses on it. He who hopes for an hour may hope for eternity. The world endures but an hour. Spend it in prayer, for the rest is unseen".






Thursday, 24 December 2015

Taj Mahal- A Tear on the Cheek of Time



You think you know all about the Taj Mahal, but the real thing still takes away your breath.

All my life I had heard so much about this monument that I thought the place was over-publicized, like that same song which played over and over again starts annoying you. So when I finally got the chance to see it in person I had mixed emotions. And to be honest the massive crowd one encounters in front of Taj is hardly a turn on. But if you are to remove all those disturbances(people randomly clicking and non-stop bantering to say the least), the place is haunting. And I don't mean in scary way, but something so capturing that it touches your very soul.

As per the legend Mumtaz Mahal asked for some promises from Shah Jahan before she died giving birth to their child. She was said to have asked the Emperor to build a monument that would reflect their love to the world and stand as a memorial showcasing their life. So that explains why he went all out making something so spectacular that could maybe remotely portray the way he felt about his marriage with her.

This mesmerizing monument stands on the banks of Yamuna and is a mix of architectural marvel and scientific research. The tomb laid out in rectangular shape can be approached through an immense gateway with huge arch that stands tall and erect, as though guarding something precious. And this is where I first laid my eyes on Taj Mahal, as if the veil had been lifted from the face of a beautiful woman.



The Taj is an experience of its own kind, while on the one hand its sheer size and magnanimity takes you off guard, on the other it's exquisite work and craftsmanship brings the elegance. As famously said, it is a romance celebrated in marble and glorified with precious and semi-precious stone!

But it's true beauty is not just in it's physical appearance but the story it carries with it. Just like a good song needs both lyrics and music, Taj Mahal's charm lies in the love it stands for. We were lucky enough to be one of the last few to leave the premises at the evening and that's when it was at it's best. As the last ray of light made it's way from the tomb, a sudden melancholy surrounded me. Without the maddening crowd and loud laughter's of tourists, the place becomes what's it's supposed to be - a place to mourn.



You know one thing you would notice undoubtedly, is the perfect symmetry of the place. In fact, the only visible asymmetric element in the entire complex is the tombstone of Shah Jahan next to Mumtaz Mahal. As per legends, Shah Jahan wanted to build his tomb on the other side of Yamuna as an exact replica of Taj Mahal but in black marble(to show his mourning), and to this day you can see the foundation laid for 'Black Taj'. But his dream was cut short by his son Aurangzeb, who imprisoned him for life.



Of course, Taj Mahal has lost it's previous glory with hundreds of years of attack and looting, not to mention new age pollution, but it still looked charming to me. By the way, guess what they are using to remove yellowness of the marble? Multani Mitti!! Apparently it not only works wonderfully on skin but on marble too.



There are too many discrepancies regarding how many wives he had or in what order but few things remain constant. Prince Khurram(later Shah Jahan) was engaged to Arjumand Banu Begum (later Mumtaz) when they were 15 and 14 respectively. They would, however, have to wait five years before they were married in 1612 AD, on a date selected by the court astrologers as most conducive to ensuring a happy marriage. After their wedding celebrations, Khurram "finding her in appearance and character elect among all the women of the time", gave her the title 'Mumtaz Mahal' Begum (Chosen One of the Palace). Mumtaz Mahal had a deep and loving marriage with Shah Jahan. Even during her lifetime, poets would extol her beauty, grace, and compassion. She was Shah Jahan's trusted companion, travelling with him all over the Mughal Empire. His trust in her was so great that he even gave her his imperial seal and they had great respect for each other.

As I sat there, absorbing all the beauty and sadness of Taj Mahal, I couldn't help but think about all those funny whatsapp forwards we get about how Shah Jahan had so many wives and how Mumtaz died giving birth to his 14th child. Back then even I doubted the love which was glorified, but somehow after my visit to Taj that has changed. I think I understand better what they shared. In those days, it was common to marry for political reasons, so it doesn't matter how many wives he had or which number she stood. What matters is, she always remained 'the Chosen One', his Mumtaz Mahal. And as for the number of kids, hope people know that only 7 of those 13 kids survived beyond childhood. In those days, it was common and in fact advisable to have more kids especially if you are from royal family for various reasons. And even today a woman risks her life while delivering even if it's her first child, that doesn't mean the couple don't love each other enough! No matter what anyone says, the fact remains that this monument will always echo their love till eternity.



They say that the Taj Mahal has life of it's own. It's mood varies from dawn to dusk. It looks milky white in the soft light that characterizes early morning, while the afternoon sun makes it glisten bright and dazzling in the overhead sunlight, almost looking like a jewel against the opaque blue of the skyline. But I guess what I will be looking forward is to see it in full-moon night..when it shines like a pearl, standing tall as the testament to an eternal love.

"The Taj Mahal rises above the banks of the river like a solitary tear suspended on the cheek of time."
                     - Rabindranath Tagore








Monday, 21 December 2015

Udaipur - City Of Lakes


Sunset at Lake Pichola

This beautiful city, tucked away in the arms of Aravalli hills and endowed with bountiful lakes is the capital of the Kingdom of Mewar(Rajput clan). The place is in simple words "breathtakingly beautiful".

It's a perfect concoction of nature and man. One often get's confused whether to admire the scenic beauty or the beautiful palaces standing proudly within it. And the history of Udaipur is nothing less than the tales of 'Amar Chitra Katha'! Only this is one had a grandeur unparalleled to anything else.

City Palace
View of Palace at night
The city is flourishing around lakes, especially Lake Pichola which is the tourist hub. Standing on the east bank of the lake is a massive series of palaces built at different times from 1559. The main entrance leads to a series of courtyards, terraces, corridors and gardens. The palace now houses a museum with many antique articles, paintings, decorative furniture and utensils from the royal era.

But living an extravagant life, they didn't stick to just one palace but 3 , one for each season - summer, winter and monsoon! Lake Palace which served as royal summer palace is situated over an island in Lake Pichola and is built of white marble. Although, now the palace is under 'Taj Hotels Resorts'.

Lake Palace aka Royal Summer Palace
Monsoon Palace, also known as Sajjan Garh Palace, was built on Bansdara peak of the Aravalli hill range and offers a spectacular panoramic view of entire Udaipur. Apparently, because of it's location the palace acts as astronomical centre to keep track of clouds and during monsoon period is surround by clouds making us common man only sit and wonder what a charming view it would have been in its glorious days!

Monsoon Palace ,Photo:Ryan 

View of the city from Monsoon Palace

Back view from Monsoon Palace
After lot of inner conflicts, I am bound to mention a small glitch in this otherwise paradise. Rajasthan in general is famous for it's hospitality and Udaipur being one of the pioneering tourist destination,we expected the best. Unfortunately, we felt the place was slightly biased when it came to tourists. They give upper hand to outsiders(whites to be specific), at some of the hotels/shops. Hopefully, things would improve with course of time and the place would become even more magical to all alike.

This pic is not from Udaipur but he is here because I like him!
During our visit to City Palace we hired a guide and he was every bit entertaining. He told us lot of anecdotes about Rajputana lifestyle and culture and I still think he was bluffing half the time! At one point we were told that women had to follow ghoongat system(covering the head/face with sari) because lot of times, attack on these kingdoms were to capture their beautiful queens. Of course at that time I thought it was ridiculous, but later when I saw some of the pictures of these queens, I had to agree, they looked stunning! Anyone would fall for their beauty :D

One of the picturesque place - Saheliyon ki Bari is the garden with fountains and kiosks, a lotus pool and marble elephants. It was laid for a group of forty-eight young women attendants who accompanied a princess to Udaipur as part of her dowry!

Saheliyon ki bari, Photo: Daniel Mennerich
Below picture is their version of postal service. Also, as part of dowry a princess brings 25-30 pigeons which she uses to send messages/letters to her parents place.


Below is the original metal armour of Chetak, the faithful horse of Maharana Pratap. During the battle of Haldighati fought against Man Singh I(Commander of the imperial Mughal Army), Pratap's forces were decisively outnumbered. So Pratap charged straight towards Man Singh, who was directing the battle seated on an elephant. Chetak reared high in the air and planted his hooves on the forehead of Man Singh's elephant. And during the chaos of attack received a fatal would on one of his legs. But Chetak died only after he took Pratap safely out of the battlefield, running a distance of about 3- 5 kilometres including jumping across 21 feet wide river(on 3 legs!). Now it makes sense why the name the Bajaj Chetak...

Armour of Chetak

Intricate artwork inside City Palace
When talking about Udaipur one cannot miss out on traditional rajasthani cuisine. The food reflects a lot on their lifestyle and the availability of ingredients in the region. To decrease the use of water in this desert state they use a lot of milk and milk products to cook. We tried everything from the traditional veg thali to exotic laal maans curry! Traditionally, it was made with wild game meat, such as boar or deer and used to be favourite among royalties. Of course, nowadays no exotic animal is used, just a mutton curry prepared in a sauce of curd and hot spices such as red chillies.

Traditional rajasthani thalli, Photo: com4tablynumb


laal maas, photo: com4tablynumb
Udaipur has so many flavors, just like spices, unique on their own but together they blend so well and create something even magnificent. No matter where I live, the impression Udaipur has etched in my heart would remain with me.







Thursday, 17 December 2015

Chasing India on Wheels


5300 km. 10 states.18 days. 2 people. 1 unforgettable journey.

When I met my husband for the first time he asked me if I liked travelling, to which I promptly replied 'Yes'. Of course, back then I didn't know it would mean travelling all over India in car! Original target being attending a friend's wedding in Noida, the 2 day plan somehow metamorphosed into an 18-day road trip touching few of the most ravishing places in India.

The first day is always a bit over enthusiastic coupled with a tangy anxiety. Mostly because we are flooded with all kind of information which the so called "media" provides, most of which are hardly assuring to an outsider. Like I had my own preconceived notion about how people lived in villages or small towns. And I was taken aback by how little I knew about some of these places.


You can read an entire book and still be clueless about the reality until you see it for yourself. And travelling does that to you. Even if you are not the kind who enjoys it, I would highly recommend at least a small trip once in a year. There is something very soothing about travelling. I could just zone out and be at complete peace, it's almost therapeutic.

Our journey took us to following places - Karnataka, Maharashtra, Daman, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Telengana and Andhra Pradesh. It would be a crime if I clubbed all these wonderful places into one article. So for now, I would just like to mention few things which overwhelmed me throughout this trip.


To begin with, it's the unconditional love we got from friends, friends of friends, relatives of friends and some total strangers! I never expected people (especially as current India is portrayed) to be so giving and welcoming. Many a times, we found better service in road side dhabas than in star hotels. And contrary to popular misconception, Indian Highways are in excellent conditions (at least in the states we visited- give or take few bad patches). Of course, some of the places are more travel friendly than others, but in general the hospitality you receive from locals are praiseworthy. And last but not the least, you just can't miss out the sheer beauty our country has to offer. As I said earlier, I can write a sonnet about all the mesmerizing things we saw and felt but it would still be an understatement.

From luscious farms to barren lands, abundant dense forests to charming valleys, lingering rivers to harsh deserts and everything which lives on it with harmony and balance including us Indians, is what makes this nation extraordinary.

I have always enjoyed travelling but now I realize that I enjoy travelling within India even more than I would have thought a few weeks back.

P.S - I would be writing a detailed description about few of the places in consecutive blog posts.






Wednesday, 25 November 2015

India: An Unnatural Nation


Photo: Yogesh Mhatre

Have you ever been mind blown by something so mundane, that you are completely caught off guard? Well, that's what happened to me recently when I started reading 'India After Gandhi' by Ramachandra Guha.

It had been there on my reading list for a while now and yesterday I finally got my hands on it. The prologue of the book is titled 'Unnatural Nation'. I didn't understand, what's so unnatural about it? It goes on to explain why most of the British folks were under the notion that it's impossible to have any sort of unity- physical, political, social or religious between states of India. As per them, there were too many languages, conflicting religions and cultural differences for it to make a nation, still less a democratic one. Many known people including Churchill said that if British left, we would perish and fall back into barbarism!

My first reaction was that of anger. How in the hell did they think that, we would perish without them? Our civilization is more than 3000 years old (blah blah..), all the thoughts any proud Indian would think of. But on further pondering, I started questioning why are we one nation?

True, that we have had civilizations surviving thousands of years and pretty successfully too. But never in our entire history have we been brought together from east to west, north to south under as one entity. As pointed out by John Strachey (a man who helped put British Raj),

"..the differences between the countries of Europe were much smaller than those between the 'countries' of India.'Scotland is more like Spain than Bengal is like the Punjab.' Diversities of race, language and religion are far greater."

Now, although it seems funny in beginning, man has a valid point.

So coming back to the question of what makes us one nation? I can very well argue that, since we all belong to one country ( technically as well as politically) we are Indians, but that would somehow diminish the true essence of reality.

Of course, we do have few things in common, but that can be said for any neighboring country. Then what is it which binds us together and keeps us moving forward? I would like to believe that we have a common soul, Indian spirit. A togetherness which you feel when you have undergone same experiences together especially suffering. I think British rule got us together, not in the way they think of course. When we felt the same pain, same suffering and fought for the same cause and the joy we shared together is what got us closer more than ever.

Even after 68 years, we are together. And I would like to believe we are not going to fall apart anytime soon. I don't mean to be over dramatic, but the truth is there is no other country like India. So even with it's flaws, be proud of it!





Monday, 16 November 2015

My First Fortune Cookie


Photo: Katie Sayer
Do you believe in fortune-telling?

Last night I went along with a couple of friends to a nearby restaurant. Just before we left, our waiter came running back with a plate of fortune cookies!

I have often heard and read about them but never seen one for real. I was rather thrilled because they just seem so mystical. There is something about fortune telling which raises curiosity, even in those who don't believe in it. Most of the times I am left amused by what these so called astrologers say and deduct. For example, if a young girl shows her hand it would invariably be for the matter of heart or now with trending times, job!

Of course there was an exception, when I had a chance encounter with a mystic. I didn't believe him at that time, but he foretold couple of things which did come out true. It could very well be one off-case of guess work coming true. But I kind of fancy the idea that maybe there are few people who know their stuff for real. After all, from ancient times astrology and astronomy(science) were two sides of the same coin. Not that I believe in every Tom, Dick and Harry or that I go visit one for any purpose. Considering how lot of wackos got into this field giving fortune-telling a bad reputation.

But that being told, I would be even more afraid to go to someone who can predict things accurately. I mean, even though it sounds cool to know the future, if I can't change it I would rather not know it! Thankfully, fortune cookies are nothing so serious, in fact mostly they have phrases or vague prophecies. They are generally crisp cookies made from flour, sugar and vanilla. And contrary to common belief, they are not Chinese(they just sound Chinese). It's an American invention inspired by Japanese traditions.

There is a lot of controversy over who invented them, as per one of the popular legends,
"a Japanese immigrant, Makoto Hagiwara, invented the fortune cookie in San Francisco. Hagiwara designer of the famous Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park was an avid gardener until an anti-Japanese mayor fired him from his job around the turn of the century. Later a new mayor did reinstate him. In 1914, to show his deep appreciation to friends who had stood by him during his time of hardship, Hagiwara made a cookie and placed a thank you note inside. After passing them out to those who had helped him, he began serving them regularly at the Japanese Tea Garden."
Regardless of who invented it, I am glad for it. We had lot of fun reading those messages and mine even came true!

My very first fortune cookie had the message,
"On your next visit you can pick any pizza of your choice for free"
I couldn't have asked for a better future :D





Friday, 13 November 2015

Wanderer


Photo: GrahamAndDairne

Travelling far and wide
I look for a world unknown,
All I see is empty space untouched by time
not a soul around, not even my own shadow

I will not perish.
I will survive.

I wander not to explore
the wild sea or mystic oceans,
but to discover myself
To reunite with eternity.

Days stretch to months..years..
I have lost count of time,
But every time  I watch the sun rise
I gaze with awe and muster the courage to carry on

I will not perish.
I will survive.

Like a lone sailor on his voyage,
On the quest for enlightenment,
I sail through these misty breeze
trying to evade these treacherous currents.

Storms come and leave me broken,
But I have learnt to heal my wings and fly,
On these bleak moonless nights,
I have learnt to follow the path laid by stars.

I don't know how long it will be
before I reach my destination.
But till that day, my friend...

I will not perish.
I will survive.




Monday, 9 November 2015

Why I decided to make Gajar-Ka-Halwa this Diwali?

Photo: Abinaba Basu

I am not very fond of sweets. I restrict myself to occasional rasgulla or kaju katli. Even in terms of chocolates I stick to dark chocolates. So it's not a matter of obvious choice for me to make 'gajar ka halwa' on Diwali. Then why am I doing it?

Firstly, I think it's comparatively easy to make! But mostly, it's because I want to hold on to that thread which sews my entire childhood memories. I am from Kerala so we don't as such have Diwali but since I grew up in North India, it has always remained one of the most important festival to me.

Beauty of Diwali is that it's a family affair. My distinct memories involve Mom going on a cleaning rampage weeks before the main day with me and my sister (reluctantly) helping her with our room. Next on agenda was food. There are delicacies for every occasion. Like for Holi, it was homemade potato chips and Dahi wade (am drooling). For Diwali, there were gulab jamuns, gujiyas, namkeen, chakli, bundi ke ladoo's and parippu vada (mom's mallu touch).

Since I was the youngest, it was my job to go to neighbors/family-friends house with sweet platter. It took me lot of courage over the years to find my way through all those crackers people randomly burst on roads. But I loved it. Dressed in bright ethnic clothes, carrying tray full of delicious sweets and snacks was a responsibility I looked forward as a kid.

We were also in-charge of soaking the diyas(oil lamp made of clay) and keeping the entire set up ready(including refilling the oil in diyas). I wasn't a fan of loud crackers so we stuck to flower pots, chakri( I still don't know what's it called in English) and sparklers! Mom was the only one adventurous among us so late at night she would resort to 'mirchi bomb'!

Diwali was a dazzling night, filled with laughter and aromas intoxicating the very soul. It was truly a night of sparkle, outside and inside alike. In last couple of years, we have all drifted away (with me spending most of the time away from home), somehow I lost the spirit of Diwali.

Often, I reminiscent of the glorious Diwali days I spent as a child and feel nostalgic. But now  I realize that all is not lost. I can still create new memories and new Diwali rituals for my new family!

And that's why I am going to take a baby step and start by making 'gajar ka halwa' and light few good old diyas!

Happy Diwali :)




Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Hypatia

Photo: wiki

In the wake of growing intolerance and the ensuing ripple effect it has created nationwide, I can't help but recollect an old story. Story of Hypatia.

Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., the city of Alexandria quickly grew into a center of culture and learning for the ancient world. At its heart was the museum, a type of university, whose collection of more than a half-million scrolls was housed in the library of Alexandria. It was one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. A place where many of the most famous thinkers of the ancient world studied.

The last known member of this museum was the mathematician and astronomer Theon - Hypatia’s father.

Throughout her childhood, Theon raised Hypatia in an environment receptive of knowledge and free thinking. At a time when women had few options and were hardly valued, Hypatia moved freely, showed fierce independence and was one of the most influential person in otherwise male dominant society. She was not only intelligent but also a beautiful woman who got many suitors but she rejected all offers and led a celibate life.

Theon started teaching mathematics and astronomy to his daughter from an early age and she turned out be a natural, for soon she became a renowned mathematician, astronomer, and Platonic philosopher. She was the head of the Neoplatonic school at Alexandria, where she taught philosophy and astronomy.

Hypatia is often credited with invention of hydrometer and astrolobe(a kind of portable astronomical calculator). Among other works, her contributions on the ideas of conic sections are remarkable. She edited the work On the Conics of Apollonius, which divided cones into different parts by a plane. This concept developed the ideas of hyperbolas, parabolas, and ellipses. she made the concepts easier to understand, thus making the work survive through many centuries. Hypatia was the first woman to have such a profound impact on the survival of early thought in mathematics.

She was an excellent orator and lecturer and students used to come from different cities to learn from her. Many students from wealthy and influential families came to Alexandria purposely to study privately with Hypatia, and many of these later attained high posts in government and the Church. Two of her most important students were Synesius and Orestes. Synesius, became a Bishop and Orestes became the prefect (governor) of Alexandria.

Unfortunately, Hypatia became the victim of shrewd political and religious turmoil. In Alexandria, Christianity had started to dominate over the other religions. By early 390's there were frequent riots between different religions. Until 412 Theophilus was Alexandria’s bishop, who was friendly with Synesius(Hypatia's student), he still admired her so she was protected and was permitted to continue her scientific explorations. With the deaths of Synesius and Theophilus and Cyril becoming new bishop of Alexandria situation got worst.

Cyril hated Hypatia because of her close friendship with governor Orestes and because of her very nature, for what she stood for -philosophy, science and inquisitive mind. Above all, her refusal to accept the religion she was forced upon. It is believed that Cyril spread rumors about her, declaring her a witch and blaming her of manipulating Orestes. Although her life was in grave danger, she never gave up and continued to teach until that fateful day in the year 415.

That day, on her way home, a mob(a fanatical sect of people who were supporters of Cyril) attacked her. They dragged her from her chariot, stripped her, killed her, stripped her flesh from her bones, scattered her body parts through the streets, and burned some remaining parts of her body.

photo: wiki
The works of Hypatia were destroyed and her name buried deep down in history. We know of her writings today through the works of others who quoted her and a few letters written to her by peers.

A life so enriched with the passion for knowledge and filled with extraordinary accomplishments, brutally ended due to 'intolerance'.

Now, when I look at these religious and political unrest, I realize how little things have changed even after thousands of years. How many more will suffer because of few fanatics? Hypatia to me is much more than a mathematician or astronomer. She stands for every human who have the right to think and believe in something they choose. And that's why I don't want to loose this fight to some crazy heretics. Not now, not ever!

"Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is
better than not to think at all."
                                                                                       - Hypatia 





Monday, 26 October 2015

The Teacher

Photo credit: Roel Wijnants

As a kid we were often asked to write essays on 'My favorite teacher' and to be honest I always made up stories because there was no one I idolized. That was before I met 'Prabha Tiwari Madam'. She used to teach Hindi to higher secondary students and taught me when I was in class 7-8 ( also, she was our class teacher for that period). What was so special about her that out of hundreds of teachers, only she made an impression for lifetime?

Unlike most of the desirable teachers, 'Prabha Tiwari Madam' didn't fall into the category of 'soft spoken, sweet and always smiling' persona. She was a 'no-nonsense' lady. She used to come to school riding a cycle, not the ladies cycle but the kind men used in olden times (in sari!). Even in those days, she was the only woman to do that. I remember distinctly this small habit of hers because she always looked so dignified and elegant riding that cycle. She never cared about all the eyes staring at her. It took me more than couple of years to understand what it meant to have pride and self-esteem.

She was an excellent teacher of course and being a literature teacher gave her enough opportunity to stretch her lessons beyond textbooks. Her classes would often end without we even so much as open the book. She encouraged us to think freely, have debates and discussions. She challenged us to question what was written in textbooks. Her classes from far from orthodox.

Although she was never vocal about her love for us, she treated us like her family. She used to take us for picnics and on occasions invite us home for evening snack! I can't be sure if everyone loved her the way I did, but they all admired her. She commanded respect.

Even now, her eloquent speech echoes through my heart. It would be quite impossible to even try explaining how advanced her teachings were, but let me give an example. During one of the discussions on Ramayana, she explained why Sri Rama was a 'Mahapurush', and not God. Sri Rama, even though supremely virtuous, was flawed. He banished his wife even though she was innocent and thus failed as a husband. Hence, he will always be 'Mahapurush', greatest human being, but not God. To this day, I have never met someone who has the courage to address such a sensitive topic in such a way to a seventh grader!

There are a hundred different reasons why I would always be in awe of her, but most importantly what I really admired was that she treated us like equals. She treated us like adults, someone willing to consider new ideas, tolerate differences and audacity to push our limits. And even if we were too young back then to understand all this, we tried our best to grow up with that values.

I lost touch with her when I shifted to Bangalore, and it's been more than 15 years since my last class with her but she still inspires me. And I know, of all the people who made me who I am, she would remain an integral part. My teacher 'Prabha Tiwari Madam'.








Monday, 19 October 2015

Why I Chose Not To Be God-Fearing





There was a phase in my life when I had to go through the trauma of choosing portfolio's for "arranged" marriage. Yes it is not something I am proud of and am glad it's all in the past. But one thing which struck me while reading "About me" section of these candidates (at least most of them) was "I am very honest and God-fearing person". What the hell do you mean by "God-fearing" person??

Now, before I dwell into this subject let me clarify my stance on this topic. I believe in God. I am not very religious but I do occasionally go to temples. I completely understand people who are ardently religious. That said, I respect agnostic/atheist people too. But what I don't understand is why should you be God-fearing? If you want to convey you are religious then say that instead of using such cliche term.

Why should you be fearing God? Because He is supposed to be super powerful and if you were to disappoint Him you will be punished? It reminds me of something Richard Dawkins once said

“Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base though.” 

After all, isn't God epitome of justness and forgiveness? So, until of course you are such a big sinner that you are constantly in fear of convicted, you should be fine. But the real reason why mostly this phrase is used is because people think they are adding a "positive" quality by dragging God's name into their bio-data. Somehow, it will make them desirable for the marriage material (ideal person).

We love bragging about our spirituality and keep our traditions in high esteem and honestly there is nothing wrong with that. But at least, try not to give a bad name to God by portraying Him as someone we need to be scared of. It may be used in very innocent manner but it sends a very wrong message.

Don't be 'God-fearing', be 'God-loving'!







Friday, 16 October 2015

B-A-N-A-N-A-S


Photo credit: Matt Reinbold












                                                                                                                                                       
If you ain't going bananas over banana yet, wait till you find out these mind blowing facts about them...

  1. The banana plant is not a tree, but a herb. In fact, it's the largest herb on the Earth. And botanically speaking, banana is a berry!

  2. Eating banana can cheer you up(literally)! Bananas are the only fruit to contain the amino acid   Tryptophan and Vitamin B6, which together help the body produce seratonin, the so-called "happy hormone" which helps improve mood and overall feelings of well-being.

  3. Bananas have high nutritional value and are a healthy snack. They are low in calories and have no fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol. They contain vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. Eating two bananas can give you enough energy for a 90-minute workout!

  4. It's extremely hard to extract juice from bananas, even though they're 75% water. Their molecular structure is just not very squeezable. The currently available banana juice is blended banana, not squeezed banana. If you don't believe me, try squeezing a banana.

    Scientist at Mumbai based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre(BARC), Nuclear Agriculture and Bi-technology division(FILPY), have developed a bench level technology for extracting almost 60%-70%  of the total soluble materials of banana in the form of juice and left over pulp can be dryed into powder. BARC has already patented this technology!

  5. More than 100 billion bananas are eaten every year in the world, making them the fourth most popular agricultural product, following only wheat,rice and corn.

  6. To know one's surprise, India is the leading producer of bananas. But what's interesting is we are not even in the top ten banana-exporting countries (we are ranked 24th). So we must really love bananas, but not as much as people in Uganda who are the largest consumer of bananas. The average citizen eats around 190 kg of the fruit every year – roughly three bananas a day!

  7. Bananas as we know them may soon be extinct – and it’s happened before. Until the 1950s, the Gros Michel variety was top banana, but it was effectively wiped out by Panama disease and had to be replaced by the Cavendish (most popular across the world). That's because they have nearly no genetic diversity -- the plants are all clones of one another. One aggressive bug or disease is all that it would take to wipe bananas out completely.

  8. Fibre taken from banana plants can be used to make clothes . The banana fibres were reported to be elegant and highly versatile. It is classified as medium quality fibre and perform very well in combination with other fibres for making articles like handicrafts,currency etc.

  9. Bananas are naturally radioactive. Yes, you read it correctly. They contain small amounts of the isotope potassium-40, which is radioactive in nature. You don't need to worry though as this naturally occurring radiation has very little effect on the body.

    Although, the fruit is sometimes used to explain quantities of radiation. For example: the radiation exposure from consuming a banana is approximately 1% of the average daily exposure to radiation, which is 100 banana equivalent doses (BED). The maximum permitted radiation leakage for a nuclear power plant is equivalent to 2,500 BED (250 ╬╝Sv), while a chest CT scan delivers 70,000 BED (7 mSv).

  10. Oh by the way, a cluster of bananas is formally called a "hand" while a single banana is called a "finger" ( seriously!).





Friday, 9 October 2015

Life After Marriage



Let me get this straight, I am not going to give any new insights on marriage or how to live your life after marriage. I am just going to share my experience (if 1 year counts) and what to expect in the least.

To begin with you would find tons of people telling you how your life is going to change completely. That your good old carefree days are over. Basically a whole list of good/fun things over. How you will have to be responsible and mature and lot of other "grown-up" talks, which will drive any sane person to anxiety attack!

For those of you, who have never shared your room it will be little difficult initially, but mostly it's like having a roommate! You come home to someone who loves you and cares to know how your day went. You talk, watch movies or TV series together, occasionally you have arguments but like any other healthy relationship you make up. It is surprising how quickly humans can get accustomed to having a company. You set few ground rules and respect other persons space. It's really not scary as you are made to believe.

Another very annoying thing I was implied was about my social life. You are being told that "Now you can't go out and party whenever you want" or something in those lines. Which kind of came out true because once you are married people don't call you to single parties! I really had tough time convincing people that I have no problem with meeting friends or having the same relationship with them as before. Few of my friends stopped calling me altogether and when I called back I was told "I didn't know what would be appropriate time to call now that..." (??). In fact, I had to persuade my husband to contact his friends to go for " boys night out" because they assume he won't go out anymore !

I won't say there are no changes what so ever. Yes, you have to be considerate towards other persons feelings. Sometimes, you may have to watch a movie you aren't die hard fan of or maybe eat something you wouldn't otherwise but it's nothing too dramatic.

I was always a wild one, had bit of a commitment phobia and still hate to be tied down. So I kept waiting for all those nightmares which I was warned against and they never turned up. What I realized was you change only as much as you want to. Yes, you may find people who have changed a lot after marriage but that's only because they choose to change.

Life still throws you problems every now and then and you still have to go through your mess. But you find comfort in knowing that someone is there to share it with you. Of course, you don't have to be married to feel that kind of love and you could have perfectly blissful life alone. But don't just assume that marriage is going to ruin your idea of perfect life.

Never let anyone fill you up with ideas about how a married life is going to be. Every person is unique and when two people get together they create something which is as unpredictable as possible. In lot of ways marriage is like life itself, full of surprises, ups and down, something you have to go through yourself to understand and hope that at the end of the day you will have more of happy memories than that of sad.





Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Why so Evil?

                                                                                      Photo credit: Brian Suda

Whenever something good happens, I often hear people say, don't tell to everyone "nazar lag jayegi" (getting an evil eye). Funnily, many a times evil eye or not those moments are being ruined as well. But more I think, it makes even less sense than before.

I mean if evil eye concept should have worked than why does it only works locally? Why doesn't Bill Gates gets any poor just because millions of people feel jealous! But then what about all those bad things which happen immediately after those happy occasions? ( and trust me they do)

Well, I guess its the balance of life. It's not about whether you share it with people or just keep it to yourself. But when you feel that profound happiness, you kinda run out of your quota (eventually). We anticipate too much, our expectations are all time high so obviously we have to come down at some point. I have personally tried the option of keeping good news to myself just to see if it works ( no am not that jobless as you think) and what I felt was it sometimes does and sometimes doesn't. So we are back to probabilities. At the end somethings are destiny ( no it's not an excuse for not working hard, this stuff exists!)

It is assumed that people like hearing problems in others life or they feel comforted by others suffering. Maybe some but I am sure there are lot of people who actually feel sad or depressed by it. For example, when I hear someone break up or if someone fail after they struggled for years, I truly feel morbid. Not because I am an angel or something but because somehow I try to connect to all these stories. When I hear someone achieve their dream I feel hopeful that maybe I can do it too. I am sure many of us feel encouraged by others success.

I think we underestimate humankind. I agree it has it's own flaws, as I said there will be some folks who would try to pull you down or make you feel miserable but there are lot of others who genuinely believe in goodwill.

What's important to remember is everyone has their share of good and bad going on (not in equal share I agree). But it does, it's just that somethings are more visible than others. Someone may look healthy, rich and successful but for all you know he will be more unhappy than you and me for reasons unknown to us. When we see or meet someone we should not judge them or compare ourselves to them. Because you can only compare materialistic things, you can never compare your lives in true sense.

So forget about getting evil eye and things like that, when you are happy don't restrain yourself. Regardless of whether you "shout it out from rooftop" or not, good phase will end. But when you are part of it, celebrate it with your friends and family without any hesitation and maybe you will outlive beyond this cycle of good-bad.

No bird in a cage has ever come to know what the mountain winds feel like, by staring at the free flying birds, wishing that they would fall from the sky!
                                                                                                       ― C. JoyBell C.




Friday, 2 October 2015

Resistance

Photo credit: NIAID


Recently I came across a documentary "Resistance" and it opened my eyes to a whole world of antibiotic resistance. Regardless of your preexisting interest in public health, once you learn a little about antibiotic abuse, you won’t be able to ignore it.

I always believed that too much of antibiotics is not good for health. Often when a doctor prescribes a 5 day medicine course and if I feel well after 2-3 days I skip the last day. I mean I know doctors say you should complete the course but I thought it was only so that the microbe doesn't come back again. Unfortunately I was in dark like most of the people.

what are antibiotics and what does it mean by antibiotic resistance?

In a very broad  term, antibiotics are poisons which kills bacteria but doesn't kill us. But that's like a Cinderella story, and we know life ain't that straight. So what happens is, when we give antibiotic it either kills the bacteria but if it survives what we have is a survivor bacteria who is even stronger than before! Which means the medicine which you are using today to fight against a particular bacteria may not work tomorrow. Simply because they have become immune to it.

Why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?

There are number of reasons, top most being evolution or as best said "survival of the fittest" which is a natural phenomenon. However, the current higher-levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are attributed to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics. It is very important that we dwell into details of how we are overusing or rather abusing antibiotics which in turn helps them get stronger

  1.  Giving wrong doses of antibiotics to people
  2. People take wrong doses or because they don't take full prescription 
    (When stopping taking antibiotics early or just when symptoms subside, there could still be a few infectious microbes left which would re-populate with greater resistance to that antibiotic) 
  3. Give antibiotics to healthy beings (including animals)
  4. Excessive spraying of antibiotics in fruits and vegetables
  5. Exposure of antibacterial agents through everyday items we use. From hand wash to dish wash!
And these are not imaginary or futuristic talks, about 70 percent of the bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used for treatment. Some organisms are resistant to all approved antibiotics and can only be treated with experimental and potentially toxic drugs. For example Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the cause of gonorrhoea) are now almost always resistant to benzyl penicillin due to over usage of penicillin.

Antibiotics play a gigantic role in fighting infectious diseases. At first glance, it may seem that antibiotic resistance is only going to effect a small range of diseases. But truth is without antibiotics, we can't even have a surgery! It will falter the entire medical system.

Today almost all the livestock we consume are being fed with antibiotics as a precautionary measure. Farmers or poultry folks cant afford to take risk because it's not as profitable. We keep spraying antibiotics randomly one after another thinking we are protecting ourselves. True we manage to kill lot of microbes, but the one's that manage to survive are going to be immune to everything we have. What if one of these microbes is disease causing? What then? We will be left completely disarmed.

Of course, one can argue that even human beings are not fragile and we can get resistant too to these microbes. Yes , we can. But how are we going to achieve that? Today we stay far away from earthly stuffs. We hardly get our hands dirty or dig our feet into unknown environments. At the first onset of fever or illness we gobble up antibiotics! We are so overcautious that we have cocooned our body into this pompous being. We are rusted whereas these microbes are very much active and "in shape".

Surely if the situation is this critical there must be lot of research going on and pharmaceutical companies would be coming with new and improved antibiotics.Right?

From 1983 to 1987 there were 16 new antibiotics made and approved by the FDA, from 2003-2007 there were 5, and since 2008-2011 there have only been 2.(source)

Why is pharmaceutical companies not investing in antibiotics?

It takes an average of 12 years for an experimental drug to travel from the laboratory to your medicine cabinet. That is, if it makes it. Only 5 in 5,000 drugs that enter preclinical testing progress to human testing. One of these 5 drugs that are tested in people is approved. The chance for a new drug to actually make it to market is thus only 1 in 5,000. Not to mention billions spent for the potential risky affair.

Now looking into the antibiotic resistance pattern, it is very much possible that by the time drug reaches market it would have already become resistant to that drug! So you see, its a catch 22. Why would investors invest money in something so risky when they can make huge profit out of something like Lipitor or even Viagara which gives long term returns and bound to be blockbusters.

Are we doomed?

Well, being a optimist I would say, not yet. What we need is awareness as to what is happening, why it is happening and what we need to do to prepare ourselves for future. As an individual, we can always choose to follow some minimum precautions, like taking antibiotics only when we really need to and taking the full prescription or avoiding overuse of antibacterial products. Of course, it is a tiny step but its a step we are obliged to take.

"Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself."
                                     -Albert Camus









Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Something Borrowed


Photo credit: Sean and Lauren

I walked across the hallway looking for you
I thought I heard a whisper, a voice I knew
I remember I had met you back when I was young
When my dreams where shallow and maybe unsung

You smiled at me and left something back
looked quite mundane so I shoved it somewhere in rack
I understood it little late how valuable it was
Never was really good at picking clues alas!

Nevertheless it saved me in more ways than you would know
Just like a dazzling star in the dark night glow
Now as I sit and reminiscence of bygone day
Feel my heart bow to you for in this heart you shall stay...








Thursday, 17 September 2015

7 Ways to Survive a Bad Day

Photo credit:Rachael Monroe













It's inevitable that you have a bad day once in a while. Day when everything that could go wrong goes wrong. You find yourself in series of unfortunate events which leaves you in foul mood. It could be because of anything, in fact sometimes there is no logical reason for you to feel a bit shit. Here's a few tips for you to turn your crappy day to a happy day!

1. Swearing is Not the Worst thing You can Do

Now before you get all judgmental, let me clarify that I know screaming and swearing is not a strongest display of character. In fact, most people would suggest meditating to get rid of bad day but then who are we kidding? we aren't one of those enlightened beings ( yet!). So feel free to swear ( a lot) and let go off all the frustration.

Photo credit: Brandon Doran

















2. Pamper Yourself

No matter how bad a day you are having there is always something you can do to pamper yourself. Indulge in a luxury bath or treat yourself with chocolate. Even if rest of the world is treating you like shit, you are the master of yourself.

Photo Credit: Personal creations

3. Take a Nap

When you sleep you are not in this world. Dream world makes all the bad things go away. Well, it is kind of burying your head in the sand but guess what, world is not going to standstill just because you sleep for couple of minutes (or hours)!

Photo Credit: Theilr






4. Plan Your Vacation

This may sound silly but works wonderfully! No matter how many months you have to survive before you get even a 3 day long weekend there is no harm in planning your vacation. It need not be elaborate, just an outline of what kind of place you want to go, hill station or maybe beach...and before you know that depressing aura is lifted!

Photo credit: Daniel Go






5. Good Food is Good Mood

First step to get instant happiness is awesome-blow-your-mind food. It varies from person to person so pick anything from your " I love it" food list and forget about everything else.

Photo credit: Michael Stern






6. Watch something Funny

Although you may feel your life itself is a joke under the circumstances, it helps to laugh out loud. Watch a hilarious no-brainer movie or at least a funny dog video. By the end of it, world is a happy place again :)

Photo credit: Umar






7. Relax, it's Not the End of the World

No matter how long you feel the day has been it will get over. And with that, curse of bad day will wear off and tomorrow will be a better day. Remember, you have to fight through some bad days to earn the best days of your life.

Photo credit: Vinoth Chandar