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


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


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