There is always a light

There is always a light
Don't be afraid if you are alone or surrounded by darkness. In some part of the world, the day has just begun. There is a always a light waiting for you to find your way to touch its radiance.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Romancing Hitler

By Tuhin A Sinha
Mumbai, India

Adolf Hitler’s romances followed an intriguing pattern- they carried a similar demonic streak in them that characterized his politics. 
All three known women to enter his life attempted suicide, which in turn cast serious aspersions over his psychological and sexual traits. However, if there is one relationship of Hitler’s that still evinces interest, it is that with Eva Braun, 23 years younger than him.  Braun was Hitler’s mistress for 12 years and wife for 40 hours.
Braun met Hitler in Munich when she was 17. She was working as an assistant and model for his personal photographer and began seeing him more often two years later. Much of Eva Braun’s viewpoint on their romance and her life with Hitler comes across on the site evabraun.dk
 According to the site, in 1931, Eva wrote a letter to Hitler:
"Dear Mr. Hitler, I would like to thank you for the pleasant evening at the theater. It was unforgettable... I count the hours until the moment when we shall meet again.." Braun soon agreed to follow Hitler to his mountain retreat in the Alps. Their attraction was immediate, and over the objection of her lower-middle-class Bavarian parents, she became his mistress."
Their relationship, post that is of the kind that would re-define the word ‘enigma’. Hitler wouldn’t publicly embrace her, nor privately disown her. He provided her an opulent life, replete with all material comforts, yet deprived her of the one thing she treasured most-his company. According to Hitler's chauffeur Erich Kempka, Braun spent most of her time waiting for Hitler.
Hitler kept Braun away from the public eye. His high-handedness towards her is said to have made his staff refer to Braun as “the girl in a gilded cage". Braun, for her part, only became rebellious- keeping up habits which Hitler detested, such as smoking and nude sunbathing.
In a tender moment though, Hitler is said to have confided his feelings for Braun in his personal valet, Heinz Linge, "Braun is too young to be the wife of one in my position. But she is the only girl for me. So we live as we do..."
So, did Hitler love Eva Braun?
Well, so it seems. Hitler’s definition of love, though, was significantly different from the way the world perceived it. It carried an element of perversity. Apparently, he believed in ‘controlling’ the lover, without in turn living up to his part of the involvement. This behavior surprisingly brings out insecurity in as much as it does vanity.
And did Eva Braun love Hitler?
Yes. What must have started off as an infatuation eventually stood the test of time, despite abuse of various kinds. It is believed that Hitler wanted her to be with him in death, just as she had stood by him for so many years in life. Braun fulfilled his wish as she always had. On 30th April, 1945, Hitler and Braun committed suicide just when they were on the verge of being captured by the Soviet troops. The world discovered after their deaths that Hitler and Braun were man and wife. Hitler’s acquiescence to marry Braun- something she always wanted, barely 40 hours before their death, was his compensation/redemption for all that Braun had borne for him.
Had it not been for unconditional love, Braun would probably have realized the futility of craving for the moment of glory that simply wasn’t. Hitler’s narcissism did not spare his idea of love.
The article was first published in The Times of India

Monday, April 26, 2010

When Music Heals...

By Ananya Mukherjee
Singapore


Jab sangeet ilaaj nahin kar paayi, to dawa kya ilaaj karegi?” I had heard one of India’s leading maestros utter these words in a live concert in Kolkata, last winter. The immense potential of the power of the cosmic flow of sound hidden in Indian Classical music has been well recognised since time in memoriam.  Ancient sages are said to have devised several musical patterns emanating from the Omkara to chant Vedic hymns for distinct spiritual effects. According to mythology, it was the Gandharvas or divine musicians who brought the Ragas from the gods to the humans. Interestingly, Vedic Science actually emphasises on the special healing effect both for individuals and for society as a whole originating from Raga music which at places, forms part of the therapeutic approaches of Ayurveda.
“If music is therapy to the soul what better music than Indian classical can be therapeutic? It soothes the soul as there is a solid grounding of philosophy in Indian classical music. Any form of art that has its birth in deep rooted philosophy is the answer to millions of problems of daily life,” feels maestro Pandit Debashish Bhattacharya. He cites the Raga Kalyan as an example. The raga he says is inspired by the word Kalyan which means good or welfare in a holistic sense in Sanskrit. “As a matter of practice, it is sung or played in the evening after the day’s work is over. A sense of surrender of the self to the Almighty prevails in the notion of movements traditionally. Those who listen and those who play this particular raga find a sense of joy that does not spring from any material source. They feel relaxed, rejuvenated and the mind refreshes. That is a therapeutic effect,” Pt Bhattacharya explains.

Pt Bhattacharya, who is known to be a phenomenon in the history of World Music and Indian Classical Music for creating a trinity of slide guitars, christened as Chaturangi, Gandharvi and Anandi, speaks very passionately about the therapeutic impacts and influences of Raga Music. Ragas, he explains, are known to correspond to specific laws of nature that predominate during the time of performance. Therefore, a raga is not just invented but rather cognized in the state of unambiguous awareness as the structure of sound and melody of creation.  Thus, the time of day and year and the elements condensed in the ragas are equally important to accentuate the impact on human psyche. “Ragas have set time scales as it is born from nature and on the soil of the civilization that was spread across continents of today. It has also unified mankind. Persian music may sound different but the time scales are more or less same as ours. Basically it has a psychological effect.  And of course, traditionally this has been the practice. If it did not suit us, the entire music would be unacceptable and obliterated. Our music comes from nature and is very scientific yet abstract. That's where it tickles the mind,” he adds.
After having won the BBC Radio Awards for World Music in 2007 and being nominated for the Grammy Awards for 2009, Pt Bhattacharya has recently launched O Sakuntala which is a musical interpretation of Kalidas’ Abhigyan Shakuntalam. We wish him all the best for his musical journey ahead and hope through his improvisations and experiments on Indian ragas, he will continue to heal our hearts and souls and spread the message of humanity, peace and contentment across the globe.

Debashishda and his music are both very close to my soul. Signing off with my thoughts for him...His music touches the audience where it should—the soul. He elevates music to a level where it is no longer restricted to the senses; it becomes a spiritual communion with the Gods.


(For more information on Pandit Debashish Bhatacharya and his music, you may  login to http://www.debashishbhattacharya.com)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Alchemy of Identities

By Abdullah Khan
Motihari, Bihar, India
In 1996, a day after India’s fantastic win over Pakistan in the Cricket World Cup Quarterfinal, I was sitting in the offices of a leading English daily in Patna, the capital of the northern Indian state of Bihar. At that time, I used to be a freelance contributor to this national paper’s local edition. The paper’s features team and I were, of course, discussing cricket. Everybody was trying to guess which strategy the Indian team would adopt against a resurgent Sri Lankan team in the semi-finals.

All of a sudden, the discussion meandered to a new topic: is it true that every Indian Muslim secretly cheers for the Pakistan Cricket Team? Later, a more specific question was thrown at me by one of the sub-editors: “Tell us what’s more important to you, being an Indian, or being a Muslim? If you had to decide between one or the other, which one would you choose?”
“Both my identities are significant to me,” I replied, explaining how a person is capable of belonging to multiple communities at the same time. For example, my identities as a Bihari and as an Indian were not contradictory. Even in my personal life, I could simultaneously be a father, a son. But not everybody was convinced by my answer. I could see that some eyes contained traces of doubt about my unflinching loyalty towards my country. This wasn’t the first time my sense of devotion to a secular country had been doubted simply because of my religion.
Years ago, while I was studying in a school in a small town in provincial Bihar, my history teacher, who was known for his anti-Muslim bias, put forth a similar, tricky question towards the Muslim boys: “Are you Muslim first or Indian first?”
Some of the boys said, “Muslim first.”
A few of them said, “Indian first.”
Some didn’t say anything and remained silent.
My reply was altogether different. “I am both Muslim and Indian at the same time. I was born to Muslim parents, so I am a Muslim. I was born in India so I am an Indian. In fact, in the precise moment of my birth I automatically acquired both the identities.” At that point in time, I was a boy still, and I didn’t understand the intricacies and complexities of individual identity. That particular response, in fact, had been appropriated from my Granduncle, and he had read it in a magazine called Al-Risala, which was published by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a renowned Islamic scholar who had been internationally recognized for his contributions to world peace and promoting religious harmony.
During my formative years at college, I always pondered over the question of identities and how a person’s identity influences his thought process or molds his perception about anything and everything—how a person’s identity culturally conditions his individuality. As I grew however, I realized that we are not always consciously aware of all the facets of our identities. In fact, there are many layers of our identities—sub-identities and super-identities—of which we remain ignorant. Strangely, it sometimes takes other people’s prejudices and insecurities to reveal these hidden aspects of our identities to ourselves.
I was born in a small village called Pandari near Motihari, which is a small provincial town bordering Nepal, insignificant from any point of view apart from its historical value. Mahatma Gandhi had chosen this very place for his first experiment of the “Satyagraha” movement against the British landlords who were forcing the local peasantry to grow Indigo. Interestingly, George Orwell, one of the great authors of 20th century, was also born here.
I remember as a child, when I started going to Madarsa (religious school) in my village, I identified myself as a Pathan. In India, Pathan, a so-called upper caste, is part of a caste system of Muslims who claim their ancestry to the Pashtuns of Afghanistan. Film star Shahrukh Khan and cricketer Irfan Pathan are some famous Indian Pathans. As a child, I, along with my cousins and neighborhood boys would think that being a Pathan was the best thing in the world. Whenever we got into a fight with the boys of other castes we would abuse them using their caste names. For example we would call a Sheikh, Sheikh Shekhari. Sheikh is another caste among Muslims. The Sheikhs are believed to have either descended from Arab immigrants, or their forefathers were high caste Hindus who converted to Islam. One corner of our village had a predominantly Sheikh population referred to as Sheikh Toli.
My Grandmother, Dadi, told me she came from the family of Yusufzai Pathans, a superior sub-caste or clan of Pathan. And my Grandfather was not Yusufzai but was among the superior categories of Pathans. Right now I can’t recall what type of Pathan he was.
The neighboring village, Chandanbara, was a big one with the predominant population being Sheikhs. In the early-80s, a big Madarsa was built here. In that Madarsa my maternal uncle, my mother’s cousin, was a teacher. He taught Mathematics, English, and Hindi. I happened to visit my uncle one day and was impressed by the ambience of the Madarsa, where, along with religious subjects, secular courses were also taught. I decided to join it. At that time, I was studying in class four in the same village’s Government Middle School.
For the first time, I found myself in a classroom that was predominantly Sheikh. A few boys from so-called lower castes also studied there. But they kept a low profile and always sat on the back-benches. I was the only Pathan and sat on the first bench. Although I was below average in Arabic and Persian, I excelled in Mathematics, Hindi, English, and Science. The boys who had always been topping these subjects before my arrival were jealous of me. And to harass me, they identified something, which would allow them to rally the majority of the class against me. My caste. They called me Pathan Shaitan in order to tease me. In fact they pronounced Pathan as Paithan which rhymed perfectly with Shaitan. Their insult meant “Devil Pathan” or “Pathans are devils.” Their collective attempt to humiliate me only reinforced the prejudices I had acquired while growing up in my village. “Sheikhs are stingy; they are cruel and exploit poor people. They indulge in un-Islamic things like usury. They are more poisonous than cobra.”
Another point on which I was teased was for my being Barelvi, which is a school of thought among South Asian Sunni Muslims, venerating Sufis and approving visiting of Sufi shrines. The Madarsa was run by people following a school of thought called Ahle Hadith. In contrast to Barelvis, Ahle Hadiths reject Sufism and oppose excessive veneration of Sufi-saints, as they claim that all these go against the basic tenets of Islam. Chandanbara was predominantly Ahle Hadith. The boys ridiculed me saying that I was a Kabarpujwa—a grave worshipper. Within two months I left the Madarsa and returned to my old school.
At the age of 11, when I left my village for Katihar, a small district town in North-East Bihar, I became conscious of my Muslim identity. In my village and also in the neighboring villages, the entire population was mostly comprised of Muslims, so it never occurred to my juvenile mind that somebody could be other than a Muslim. Yes, my village did contain a few dozen houses of low caste Hindus like Noniyas, the saltmaker caste, Telis, the oil presser caste, Badhai, the carpenter caste and a few more. But they all lived on the fringes of village society and had never made it to the map of my imagination.
In the neighborhood at Katihar, there was a Hindu gentleman who always brought me chocolates or sweet candies and affectionately called me Miyan Ji. Miyan, now considered slightly offensive, is a slang word used for Muslims by non-Muslims. He often told me stories. Most of these stories centred around a cruel Muslim king. He would tell me graphic details of the torture and killing of Hindus under the rule of such kings. He also told me stories of Muslim invaders plundering India, destroying and looting its temples. At that time, I had little sense of history. Being in class five, I hardly knew anything about Mahmood of Ghazani, Muhammad Ghauri, or Nadir Shah. But the way in which he told his stories made me feel miserable. I felt as if he was holding me responsible for all the unfortunate events of the past just because I shared the same religion with those kings and invaders. For some time, I harbored a faint resentment towards him for demonizing Muslim kings. I secretly believed that he was telling lies. A Muslim, I believed, couldn’t be that cruel.
In my class at New Pattern English School in Katihar, a few Hindu boys bullied me and called me Miyanwa, a derogatory term used for Muslims in the provinces of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I couldn’t dare to confront them.
Azmal was my class monitor. He sat on the first bench and always stood first in class. He was tall and physically robust. He was also a Muslim. I decided to complain to him about the boys. He immediately called the boys and threatened that he would break their neck-bones if they ever teased me. He also threatened to complain to the principal.
Since the principal too was a Muslim, the boys were frightened that severe action might be taken against them. They asked me to forgive them, which I finally did. After a few months, we forgot everything and became friends.
A few times I had a fight with some of my classmates and some of them teased me with a poem:
Chai Garam Chai Nahi Hai
Miyan Beta Mar Gaya Parwah Nahin Hai
(There is no cup of hot tea here. If a bloody Muslim dies, I don’t care.)
I would immediately retort with the same poem just replacing Miyan with Hindu.
Chai Gram Chai Nahi Hai
Hindu Beta Mar Gaya Parwah Nahin Hai
When my father was transferred to Patna, I was already in class eleven. The city of Patna is situated on the banks of the river Ganges, one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. A city with a glorious past, now it is the capital of one of India’s most impoverished states, Bihar. My father, a two time President medal awardee, was an Inspector with the Bihar Military Police. His image of being a man of honesty and integrity had won him a lot of admirers within the department cutting across caste and religion. In the Officers’ quarters of the Police colony of Patna, we were surrounded by Hindu neighbors, and there were only a couple of Muslim families including ours and one Christian family.
We celebrated the festivals of both Hindu and Muslims with verve and enthusiasm. For me each festival held the same significance be it Holi, Id, Durga Puja, Deepawali, and of course Chhath.
During the holy month of Ramzan, or Ramadan, when Muslims around the world fast from dawn until dusk, everyday some Hindu friends of my father would drop in at our place for Iftar or the ritual breaking of fast. We also sent Iftar items, food items prepared for breaking the fast, to at least two-to-three Hindu families daily.
During the Hindu festivals we were inundated with invitations. During the Chhath, my room would be full of buckets full of homemade delicacies: sugarcanes, coconuts, apples, and other fruits. All these things are offered as prasad to the Sun God during Chhath puja, the most sacred Hindu festival in Bihar. Amma, my mother, believed that the sacred offerings should not be wasted. She would call a few poor women from the neighboring mohalla to take the major part of the prasad. They were happy to get so much to eat. Amma ensured that not even a single piece of prasad was wasted.
While living in the Police colony, I was never questioned about my identity as an Indian. But when a cricket match took place between India and Pakistan my loyalty was questioned. Back in those days we didn’t have a television at home. So, I used to go to the Police Canteen to watch the matches, which used to be crowded when the two contemptuous siblings took to the cricket field. An India-Pakistan match used to be very difficult to watch. Throughout the match, many viewers would attempt to discern whether I was supporting India or Pakistan. The tyranny of peering eyes made me behave in odd ways. If I clapped on the fall of a Pakistani wicket many of them suspected that I was simply pretending. At that time Azharuddin, the Indian cricketer and later the captain of Indian Cricket team, was an icon for Muslim youth, and I too took pride in the fact that a Muslim was out there fighting our arch-rivals, Pakistan. But I avoided praising Azhar out loud because I feared that people around me might interpret it the wrong way. They might think I was praising Azhar because he was a fellow Muslim and not because he was a fine player.
When Azhar played well I heard people wax eloquent. But when he failed he was abused (however not every time) as Salaa Miyan. It was not that other players were spared when they failed to perform, but their religion was never used to slander them.
My friend’s elder brother, whom I fondly call Bishambhar Bhaiya, is a Kankubja Brahmin Hindu, pure vegetarian, a fan of the right-wing nationalist leader Atal Bihari Vjapayee and a great believer in the secular structure of India. He is also a great fan of Pakistani Cricketers. As a team he supports India, but he appreciates the individual brilliance of many Pakistani players, especially Imran Khan. His room is adorned by a man-size poster of Imran Khan. I couldn’t afford to hang the same poster. Being a Hindu and a high caste Hindu, Bishambhar Bhaiya’s loyalty towards India was taken for granted. If I had shown any enthusiasm for the dapper Pakistani cricketer, I would be declared a traitor.
In 1998 when I joined a public sector bank and travelled across the country, I realized how biased the country was against Biharis. From MP to Maharashtra, Punjab to Gujarat, I found many people making a mockery of Biharis and the state of Bihar. They considered Biharis corrupt, uncouth and uncultured. In Delhi I was shocked to learn that the word Bihari was a swear word. A Punjabi gentleman at my bank’s canteen tried hard to explain me, over a delectable meal of Rajma-Chawal—curried kidney beans with boiled rice—that though I was from Bihar, I was not a Bihari. Because, according to him, Bihari meant uncultured and rogue. I was, instead, decent and cultured. Infuriated by his comments, I shot back, “That way, you are not a Punjabi. Because Punjabi means a motherfucker.” He got angry and walked away saying, Salaa Bihari.
When I was posted in a small town in Punjab, which was once a hotbed of Sikh militancy, I came across many people who thought that Biharis were only agri-laborers, masons, or rickshaw pullers. They praised me for being so decent despite being Bihari, and that disgusted me.
While the city folks made a mockery of my Bihari identity, the Sikhs of rural Punjab respected me when they came to know that I came from Patna, the birthplace of the tenth Guru of Sikhism. Some of the veterans of those villages even kissed my hands. They said since I was coming from the Holy City of Patna Sahib, the birthplace of Guru Gobind Singh ji, I deserved respect. During those rare occasions I felt genuinely elated.
Otherwise, most of the time, wherever I was in Punjab, I was asked strange questions about Bihar and my Bihari-identity with an unnerving regularity. At times, in sheer frustration, I would shoot back at people, “Before leaving Bihar I got my horns sawed off and tail chopped off, so I don’t look like a Bihari.” Sometimes, the strange questions would be about my being a follower of Islam.
The city of Gurdaspur, where I lived in Punjab, was hardly twenty miles from the Pakistan Border, and a sizeable percentage of the place’s population had migrated from Pakistan at the time of partition. And many carried horror stories with them. Stories of their houses set ablaze by Muslim league supporters, of Hindu and Sikh women raped by Muslim goons, of innocent Hindu and Sikhs hacked to death by Mobs screaming “Allah-o-Akbar.” When they told the stories, they stressed the word Muslim, as if to see how I would react. Most of the times, I felt guilty for something, something which had happened decades before my birth.
It was the summer of ’99 when I had gone to the nearby village of Gurdaspur to recover a loan. On the outskirts of the village there was a small market that housed a branch of a nationalised bank. The manager of the branch was known to me and was recently transferred to this place. When he saw me standing outside his office, he sent a peon to fetch me. I went there and was made to sit in his cabin. On the chair next to me was seated a genial faced old man with a brown turban and a flowing off-white beard. The manager went outside for some work. He didn’t return for a while. To break the silence, the old man, a Sikh, asked my name. “Abdullah Khan,” I replied. At once, he held my hands, kissed them, and said, with tears running down his eyes, that my name was very nice. Surprised by his gesture, I asked him what was so special about my name. He told me some story from his past about one Abdullah Khan, his childhood friend in a village near Lahore, now in Pakistan but then in undivided British India, and how this friend, despite the risk to his own life, had helped his family to cross the border to India.
His cheeks were soaked with tears as he was talking about his friend, Abdullah, whom he had last seen in 1947. He wished to meet him before he died but he was not sure if he was alive.
He wiped his tears and said smilingly, “May God bless you my son.”
The old man’s predilection for the name Abdullah made me proud of my name.
For a few minutes, I relished the joy of being Abdullah Khan. And during those glorious moments I was not an Indian. I was not a Muslim. I was not a Bihari. I was not a Pathan.
I was just Abdullah. Nothing else but Abdullah Khan.

(Abdullah, my friend, is a banker from Motihari, Bihar, He has written for The Hindu, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The daily Star and Brooklyn Rail. He is working on his first novel and can be reached at abdullah71@gmail.com.)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Indian Weddings

By Sanjay Austa
New Delhi, India
Indian weddings are a raucous affair. Much like India itself there is too much colour, too much noise and too much chaos. But in the end there is somehow a semblance of order. Amidst the throngs of guests, heaps of food, and ear-drum shattering music there are an endless array of rites and rituals. Mysterious aunts, uncles and second cousins emerge from the woodwork and stump you with their knowledge of each ceremony and insist you perform each one of them to the letter.


I think nothing brings out the most in an indian family than a wedding. Ancient traditions are revived, forgotten gods evoked, lost friends found, long lasting relationships formed and much which is taken for granted in the mad rush of modern day life is given its due place and reverence. This rare openness of spirit and bonhomie throws some priceless moments that a photographer can never get on any other occasion.
 
(For more information, you may login to http://www.sanjayausta.com/ or email Sanjay directly at sanjayausta@gmail.com)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tranzalpine-A Slice of New Zealand

By Bidisha Bagchi
St Joseph, Michigan, USA
The Canterbury region of New Zealand begins with volcanic hills and continues to the rich farmlands of the region to finally end at the Southern Alps; a beautifully photogenic region comprising of variety of colours, blue lakes, green farms and white peaks….absolutely marvelous!
To get a taste of this unique region we went a little beyond Christchurch, the main city of this region. We took a ride on one of the World’s greatest train journeys, the Tranzalpine. The train crosses the entire Southern Alps starting from one coast to the other; from Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea.
At first the sight of the train, we were a little disappointed, it looked a little old. Later we learnt that the coaches were purposely built the old-fashioned way to give us an authentic experience of the train as it was when it first back in 1938. There was nothing shabby about the interiors though — the train’s decor was plush and stylish, with comfortable seats mostly arranged in groups of four, ideal for a family. Every seat had a wide window too, giving majestic views of the landscape outside.
Interestingly, seat numbers are not allotted when the tickets are booked. Only when boarding the train we could request a seat of our choice. We could have done that on phone the previous day, but we were lazy! There is also a full-length viewing platform at the centre of the train and you have to ask for a seat on a coach near this, for if it didn’t rain, the perch was ideal place for taking photographs or just watching the scenery, unobstructed. There’s even a cafĂ© for refreshments.
The Tranzalpine left Christchurch on the dot of its scheduled time of 8:15am and within minutes the city landscape changed. We approached verdant farmlands with the train chugging along the Canterbury plains and heading towards the Southern Alps….The excitement was truly building up.
An hour later the train actually started climbing up the Southern Alps leaving behind the mesmerizing views of the gorge of the River Waimakiriri. S series of steel girder bridges over gorges and through tunnels passed by as we started climbing. The highest viaduct, 73 m above the river, is quite appropriately called the ‘staircase’! The views around changed again, with plateau around and hills in the horizon fading away in the blue sky. Vast stretches of snow covered land and mountains came into view. When the train pulled up at the snowy Arthur’s pass station and we got off to stretch a bit and see the snow-clad views around...
A little later we boarded the train again and headed for the Otira tunnel. Being 8.6 km long,
This is the longest tunnel in the whole of New Zealand.... which isn’t bad for such a tiny country! The viewing platform was closed when the train entered the tunnel and I had to reluctantly return to my seat. After crossing Otira, the old railway towns and mining regions of New Zealand passed by and we finally reached Greymouth at 12.45 pm, the final stop for the train. Greymouth got its name for being, quite literally at the mouth of River Grey. Once a Maori village, Greymouth is now exclusively used as a starting point to visit Punakaiki and the Pancake Rocks. Tour buses leave from just outside the station and we boarded one that would take us to the rocks and blowholes. We were transfixed by a traffic sign that warned us of crossing penguins! Nowhere in the world had I seen this sign and we craned our necks hoping to see one of these sombre looking creatures! Alas, no such luck so we continued on our journey down a road that was carved out from mountains. Hugging the coastline, it ran through dense rainforests, and the spectacular views of the coastline awed us throughout.
Arriving at Punakaiki, we headed to the information centre to check about the high tide as that’s when blowholes can be seen. A moderate walk through a native rainforest — that occasionally afforded us glimpses of stunning rocks in the distance and the Punakaiki coastline — finally brought us to the Pancake Rocks.
As the main attraction, it wasn’t a bad deal! A section of limestone rocks had undergone a layering and weathering process that caused the rocks to look like stacks of thin pancakes. They indeed resembled pancakes, manmade that too such was the similarity between the thicknesses of two rocks!
We enjoyed the fascinating views all around and then concentrated on the water that was slowly filling up the pool, swirling around and sloshing against the steep rock walls around it. Suddenly there was a whirling sound and a whoosh as water gushed out of the rocks…
We all applauded, as if we were waiting for that ‘blowhole’ show to happen and that it was now over. Spending some time looking out at the Tasman Sea and the amazing view of the coastline, we returned to Greymouth to spend the rest of the day. We had booked ourselves in the next day’s Tranzalpine to return to Christchurch, giving us an entire day in Greymouth.


This article was first published in ET Travel, The Economic Times

Friday, April 16, 2010

When Power Meets Love...

By Tuhin A Sinha
Mumbai, India
That India’s first PM and the wife of the last British Viceroy had something going between them is no secret.

The book, India Remembered, written by Edwina Mountbatten’s daughter, Pamela Mountbatten only corroborates this love story, besides providing us with some rare insights. Pamela writes that the ‘reported romance’ between Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, and Lady Edwina Mountbatten, blossomed during a 1947 trip to Mashobra, a hill station, as part of joint outing of family and friends. Nehru wrote a letter to Edwina a decade later, wherein he described that trip to Mashobra as the defining moment in their relationship, a moment when he realized, "that there was a deeper attachment between us, that some uncontrollable force, of which I was dimly aware, drew us to one another."
According to Pamela, the affair was not physical. Catherine Clement, author of Edwina and Nehru: A Novel, on the other hand, in an interview to TOI, had maintained, “Edwina in her letters to Lord Mountbatten has written that her relationship with Nehru was mostly platonic. Mostly, but not always.'' While it has always been debated whether the relationship was platonic or otherwise, its sheer intensity should render the query inconsequential.
A love triangle, as illustrious, as this, involving the PM of newly independent nation, the wife of the Viceroy of the departing colonial power and with the Viceroy himself sandwiched in between, cannot be entirely devoid of political implications. What is unusual though is Lord Luois Mountbatten’s co-operation in facilitating the romance.
In a letter that Edwina’s daughter, Pamela quotes in her book, her father once wrote to her sister Patricia "She( meaning Edwina) and Jawahar Lal are so sweet together. They really dote on each other. Pammy and I are doing everything we can to be tactful and helpful." In the book, Pamela writes, “there existed a happy threesome based on some firm understanding on all sides."
This ‘understanding’ it seemed transcended emotions of hurt, envy and possible betrayal. Or perhaps Lord Mountbatten loved his wife so much that he could do anything to see her happy.
Nehru, it is believed, wrote to Edwina almost every night from 1948-60. What is surprising though is his indiscretion. Nehru, apparently, at times, did not refrain from giving vent to his frustrations in handling some of his recalcitrant colleagues. In her will, Edwina had left behind a suitcase full of Nehru’s letters - to her husband.
For Nehru to confide to this extent in someone whom he’d meet only twice in a year, as Pamela recalls, only vouches for the eternity of their bond.
It will be interesting here to note that Nehru perhaps always had an unfulfilled personal life. The differences in lifestyle between him and his wife Kamala in the early years of their marriage and Kamala’s frequent illnesses later on, till she died prematurely in 1936, had left a void in him.
It can be inferred that in Edwina, Nehru found a confidant/bosom pal/soul-mate- whom he could trust implicitly or maybe Edwina carried that semblance of a truly progressive, liberated, yet sensitive female companion that Nehru had always craved for. The other notable common factors that perhaps acted as catalysts between them were shared forlornness and that both were die-hard romantics. It needs to be noted here, that by Pamela’s own admission, this was not the first time that Edwina had found love outside marriage.
However, what continues to intrigue people even today are the political implications that this romance may have had.
Nehru’s acquiescence to Mountbatten’s unreasonable proposal of referring the Kashmir issue to the United Nations Security Council on 1 January 1948, when the Indian forces were capable of flushing out the Pakistani invaders from the whole of Kashmir, goes down as one of his ‘historical blunders’ (read errors of judgment).
The following excerpt taken from an interview that Pamela Mountbatten gave Karan Thapar, on his show, Devil’s Advocate, only adds to the speculation on this score.
Karan Thapar: Many people in India believe that the decision Jawaharlal Nehru took to refer Kashmir to the United Nations was taken under your father's advice. Could that have been an area where your mother's influence would have been particularly useful?
Lady Pamela: I think it could have been well. Because Pandit ji being a Kashmiri, of course, inevitably the emotional side comes in from one’s own country doesn't it? And my father just in dry conversation mightn't have been able to get his view point over, but with my mother translating it for Pandit ji and making, you know, appealing to his heart, more than his mind, that he should really behave like this. I think probably that did happen.
However, if one looks at the other side of the coin, Lord Mountbatten did exercise his influence to ensure that Kashmir became a part of India in the first place. In the same book, Pamela writes of a trip that the Viceroy made to Kashmir in 1947, “to convince the Maharaja (Hari Singh) to accept the plan (of accession to India) and save Nehru the humiliation.”
Lord Mountbatten’s proximity to Nehru notwithstanding, his duality over Kashmir could well have been part of a larger British ploy to keep the new born nations at loggerheads.
Whether or not any of Nehru’s personal affectations had in some way influenced his error of judgment on Kashmir, to which he belonged, will remain a matter of intense conjecture for generations to come.

The article was first published in The Times of India 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Subho Nabo Borsho

Wishing all our Bong contributors, readers and patrons a very happy new year!
Team
My Little Magazine 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

From Divine to Mortal

By Deepak Adhikari
Kathmandu, Nepal
It’s not easy crossing the fabled Iron Gates of the SLC, even for a goddess.
On a recent afternoon, Chanira Bajracharya, the Kumari of Patan, greeted her visitors with composure and patience very unlike her tender age. For nine years, she has been the Living Goddess of Patan, and now, very soon, she will appear for the School Leaving Certificate Examinations with nearly 400,000 students across Nepal. At that moment, the Goddess will become a mortal, much like any of us.
Sitting on a long sofa, the Kumari answers in monosyllables, preferring English over Nepali. At times, she chuckles, but she is quiet mostly. In between our conversation, she peeks through the latticed window of the four-storey house at Hakhabahal to look at the passers-by below.
But beneath the veneer of the divine is a girl who has very little exposure of the world outside. Instead, her knowledge comes from books gifted by foreign visitors, books such as Guide to Space, Kingfisher Book of Space, and Atlas of the World. There is a keen sense of curiosity within her, and she says she has read all of them.
The spacious room where devotees pay her a visit today will double as an exam room from March 25. A solitary desk, and two guards—that is all the company she will have in this exam centre.
The Patan Kumari is a student at Bhassara Secondary School in Purnachandi, a ten-minute walk from her house. But she’s never been to the school. Instead, her teachers come home to teach her. Her birth parents have also hired private tutors for her. But it’s difficult knowing about the world, and learning about it from books alone. When her social studies teacher talked about the trafficking of Nepali girls to India, she could not understand what she was talking about. Similarly, when she was given an assignment to write about footpath vendors, she was dumbfounded, for, obviously, she had never seen one or eaten the street-side food that many sell, and many her age relish.
The only friends Chanira has are her two brothers, aged nine and 12. She likes to sketch, a trait she might have inherited from her father, who is also a painter. But being a goddess can be “interesting”, she says. Ornately dressed in her bright-red gown, a very-conspicuous painted third eye in the middle of her forehead is accentuated by kajal on both her eyes.
Chanira replaced Chandrashila Bajracharya, the Kumari of Patan on April 6, 2001. Chanira was only six; the eldest child of Netra Raj Bajracharya and Champa Bajracharya. Two months later, an enraged Crown Prince Dipendra killed his parents, and the downfall of the Shah dynasty had begun. Chanira’s mother recalls the Kumari hadn’t spoken for several days before the massacre—a portent of the misfortune that was to fall on the nation.
The Kumari is believed to be an incarnation of the Goddess Taleju, and the tradition of a Living Goddess has its roots in the 17th century legends surrounding King Jaya Prakash Malla. According to them, Jaya Prakash Malla (in some version it’s Pratap Malla) was playing a game of dice with the Goddess Taleju when the king lusted after the goddess (in yet another version, the king’s wife heard her husband conversing with another woman and entered the room that was barred to all). A furious goddess was then placated by the king, and she vowed to reappear in the body of a virgin girl thereby sending him into a frenetic search of her mortal manifestation.
There are strict rules for the Kumari that have been well-documented in several books. The girl must be a Newar, prepubescent, and endowed with battis lakshan (32 ideal characteristics). These include “a neck like a conch shell, eyelashes like a cow, chest like a lion, voice soft and clear as a duck’s”. While the girl is a Kumari, she should not be seriously ill, and there should not be any loss of blood from her body such as the beginning of her menstrual cycles. This effectively marks the end of her tenure.
The institution of the Kumari is emblematic of the syncretic Hindu-Buddhist culture prevalent in the Valley. While all the three cities of the Valley have a Kumari each, the Kumari of Kathmandu is considered the most important. Patan’s Kumari may not be as famous as her Kathmandu counterpart; nevertheless, she plays an equally important role during festivals such as Indra Jatra, Machchhindranath Jatra, and Dashain. She’s allowed to venture out 19 times a year, mostly during festivals. In Kathmandu, the Kumari is chosen from the Shakya clan, whereas in Patan, they come from the Bajracharya clan, the Newar-Buddhist priests.
In recent years, however, the practice has courted controversy, with 2005 lawsuit by Pun Devi Maharjan demanding an end to the tradition, claiming the practice violated child rights. A year later, Chunda Bajracharya, a professor of culture at Tribhuvan University, filed another petition demanding the continuation of the tradition. Though a 2007 committee declared that the tradition doesn’t violate human rights, it also ordered the Kumaris’ parents to educate them.
That is how Chanira came to study. And that is how the Living Goddess is preparing for the toughest exams, studying her course books three hours every day and attending tuitions daily in the mornings and evenings. On one such tuition, Abha Awale, her social studies teacher, asks her to memorise the five development regions of Nepal and prepare a list of UN agencies and organisations. A while later, the Kumari picked up a Creative English Practice book and SLC model questions from a row of her books behind her kept in order.
Leaving behind their past, many Kumaris have opted for a career. Though a few have remained single, many have married contrary to the common notion that marrying an ex-Kumari is fatal. Rashmila Shakya, 28, who was a Royal Kumari from 1984 to 1992, and also co-wrote the 2005 book From Goddess to Mortal, has completed her Bachelor’s degree in information technology and is now a computer software developer in a private IT firm.
Back at the Patan Kumari’s house, I ask her what she plans to do after the SLC. Or, for that matter, her post-Kumari life? Chanira is not very sure what her life would be like when her divine role ends. She wants to study commerce and pursue a career in banking. So maybe, a career switch from being a Living Goddess, to an investment banker is not too far-fetched a dream.

The article was first published in The Kathmandu Post

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pink Picasso

By Arthur Cardozo
Kolkata, India
Some days the breeze sings a lullaby and I curl up and let it lull me to bed...
And somedays it plays truant and I'm left flirting with the whoring darkness...
longing for a familiar tune in the bowels of the bitch that is night...
Crazy, crazy nights of galloping white stallions on twilight beaches...
Of pink smoking waters and weak suns.
And what I think is the moon are two pearly white crescents
looking down on me like lucifers horns,
while I try to build castles in the royally camouflaged purple sands.
Oh, how pink is my Picasso?
Oh how electric is my world...
Paint,I say to you,paint my visions in psychedellic shades...
but please don't magenta the already blue pain.

(Ilustration: Prodipto Roy, My Little Magazine)

The Buck Starts & Stops With The Jawan

By Jaideep Hardikar
Nagpur, India 

A bullet in his leg saved Aman Singh from the fate that befell 76 of his colleagues. The CRPF trooper is recuperating in a Jagdalpur hospital, after being injured in a previous encounter at the same spot in Chintalnar where Maoists nearly wiped out his entire company this week.

On hindsight, Aman Singh thinks that two encounters last month were a training drill for the rebels ahead of the audacious April 6 attack. “They ambushed us on March 1,” Singh recounts. “Then they struck again on March 10, in which I suffered a bullet injury.”
On both those occasions, the rebels were small in number and there was nothing more than a minor skirmish. But in the third assault, the rebels struck in a big formation when the CRPF company was returning after a long and fruitless search operation to their Chintalnar camp, which serves as a launch pad for the forces to carry out area domination exercises in Dantewada.
Caught in the plains with thin tree cover amid two small hillocks about 500 metres off the road to Chintalnar from Chintagupha, the CRPF jawans could not break the Maoist cordon from any side, even as they faced a rain of bullets from temporary bunkers atop the hillocks. The only way out was a path toward the main road, but when the jawans made a dash for it, they ran into pressure mines that had been placed there.

Lull before the attack
This kind of a precision attack needs months of planning. In fact, during an earlier visit to the Chintalnar base camp, the CRPF jawans had told this correspondent that they knew they were being watched. For three months, the rebels had avoided any major confrontation even when the troopers penetrated deep into Maoist territory. This lull in the fighting, a police officer in Dantewada now says, was a precursor to the ambush on April 6.
While this won’t be the last incident in a protracted fight to regain control over a 40,000 sq km territory, more than the size of Kerala, the anti-Maoist operations in Chhattisgarh, as well as elsewhere in the country, are being reviewed after Chintalnar. “It’s going to be a long haul,” DGP Vishwa Ranjan had told The Mag just last month.
But the latest attack has brought to the fore several chinks in the joint operations dubbed Operation Green Hunt, in which the paramilitary forces are expected to work with the district police and tribal youths recruited as special police officers (SPOs).


Fighting heavy odds
The lack of intelligence is palpable. In interviews with The Mag last month, the police had said they believed the Maoist focus had shifted to Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Malkangiri in Orissa, where they had struck last month, killing 12 jawans. But it turns out the rebels were planning a big hit on the CRPF in Dantewada, even as the focus of the joint operations was extended to other states.
Joint operations commander and DG, CRPF, Vijay Raman says the idea is to search, hit and come back, to keep the Maoists on the move. “Our men are going deeper into the forests, two to three days on the trot,” said Sanjay Sharma, DSP (Operations), Dantewada. This wasn’t the case earlier.
But Abujh Marh (unknown forest) in central Bastar, with more than 200 villages and hamlets, where the Maoists can melt away and lie in wait, has proved difficult to penetrate. The odds faced by a reserve police force, unfamiliar with local conditions and untrained for jungle warfare, are enormous.
“Weapons are not the only problem,” a CRPF deputy commandant in Dantewada said. “We face shortages of medicines and rations in our base camps; we are yet to figure out how to treat our men who fall sick in the camps from malaria or diarrhea; we get no doctors here.”
Chintalnar camp, like many other base camps tucked inside the forests in the densely forested Bastar region, faces water scarcity and food shortages. And in the scorching summer, scarcity of food and water means half the battle is lost.
“Give us medicines, water and food,” said a senior officer in Dantewada, reacting angrily to one of the many television debates. The Maoists and their highly motivated local militia know these weaknesses of the security forces. They hammer at those at will. “They mine the forests and they poison the water bodies so that we do not get water to drink. That restricts our movement,” explains a CRPF jawan.


Vicious cycle
The latest attack also bared the big hole in intelligence gathering, without which the CRPF is walking blindly into traps, with no clue even about who they’re fighting.
In the aftermath of Chintalnar, an angry force is hunting for Maoists, vowing revenge. “Now they will pick up villagers and beat them, and the Maoists will exploit that as another example of oppression; it’s the same old story,” says a Jagdalpur-based reporter.
The forces are relying heavily on ex-Maoists and SPOs to crack the Sangam and Jan Militia members, the PLGA’s two external cordons that protect the core groups and their movement in the tribal area.
“Unless we break their militia network, we won’t get anywhere,” says Dantewada SP, Amresh Mishra. “So far we’ve not been able to hit any of their top leaders.”
A senior police officer admits that they are not getting quality intelligence. Even after the Chintalnar attack, no political leader from the state made any attempt to go there and talk to the villagers.
A senior official in Raipur said the administration has not been able to come up with any plan for development. Right across Bastar, the Raman Singh government seems to have handed over every single responsibility to the police. Even the routine dialogue between the administration and the locals has been long broken, says a former legislator from Konta, who’s a tribal himself.

This report was first published in DNA India

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Whisperings of The Soul

His fascination for the piano came very early and way before his foray into Indian Classical music. The tonal quality, the sheer size of the instrument, along with the fact that every time one pressed a note, over 10,000 working parts sprung to life--- all these factors enthralled him even as a child, and he learnt to play the piano both by ear and formally from the age of seven.

Today,17-yr-old Utsav Lal, from Dublin, Ireland is not just any kid on the block. He has officially been recognised as a concert pianist and named as “Young Steinway Artist” by the world’s leading piano makers Steinway & Sons.

“The piano offers innumerable possibilities to explore soundscapes. It is one of the most expressive, versatile instruments and has what I call... regal grandeur .I absolutely love the Piano,” beams Utsav.

In the initial years, he played both Western Classical and Indian film music (mostly from yesteryear films) on the piano. It was some of the strong classical based Indian film compositions by Naushadji (Madhuban mein radhika...), Shankar- Jaikishen (Laaga chunari mein daag...) that first introduced him to the challenge of playing Indian classical music on the piano. As he got deeper into it, the power and challenge of the music completely overwhelmed him. “I believe Indian Classical Music is the most evolved form of musical expression. It is the music of my roots and one that I am most inspired by and closest to. The transcendental nature of Ragas as well as the infinite creativity that it offers… touches my heart.”

Isn’t it difficult to express the intricacies of Indian music through a conventionally western instrument, you may wonder! Ustav believes that to translate the music you hear in your mind, onto your instrument, requires technical mastery over your chosen instrument. So, like all musicians, he too first worked at developing his individual musicianship along with efforts to attain mastery over the piano, side by side.
However, he admits that the biggest challenge of playing Ragas on Piano is the "meend" stretching of notes that is practiced in Indian classical music and also, the shrutis or microtones which are not possible on the piano. “Well, it was most certainly, a stumbling block for me too initially. Therefore, instead of trying to bring the Piano to Indian Classical music and trying to adapt or modify the Piano.......I’ve tried to bring Indian Classical Music to the Piano i.e. use the many strengths of the piano to beautify my rendition of a Raga,” he explains.

His western classical training allows him to have dexterity and technical control over the instrument and that helps me with his expressions and improvisations in Raga renditions. Jazz training on the other hand has helped broaden his mind tremendously and also enhanced Utsav’s sense of harmony and chords. “I try to fuel in all my learning’s back into the expression of a raga. In addition many of the techniques I use, while playing Hindustani Classical on Piano, are influenced and created, based on my listening to renditions by traditional instruments like Santoor, Sarod, and Sitar etc. Some of these are perhaps myself developed piano playing style & not what classical pianists would do.....so in that sense, it is a new way of playing the instrument.”

Utsav’s guru Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar has greatly influenced his rendition as per the Dhrupad style. “He has always taught me that my aim when I play Ragas on the Piano should be to get it to sing, what my mind is singing. The instrument is only a tool for expression…the music has to come from within. I totally believe that this simple approach is the key to combat any hurdles.
The young enthusiast is determined to take “Ragas on the Piano” to music lovers across the world. “I trust in the power of Indian Ragas and the potential of the Piano and believe that this music appeals to people of diverse genres like Western classical, Indian classical, jazz & world music fans.”
Utsav hopes that his efforts will contribute to popularize and generate an interest both at an international level and also amongst the Indian youth to explore & enjoy our classical legacy. “In five years’ time, I would like to see my efforts fructify with an international standing and recognition for Indian Classical Music on Piano. I hope to secure a respect for the power & scope of this unique combination from both Western Classical & Indian Classical purists.”
Above all, Utsav enjoys collaborations and sharing of ideas. It opens up a fabulous new unexplored plane whenever two instruments....two musicians work together, he says. “In the future I see myself deeper into western classical, Jazz and other varied genres...and exploring exciting areas of meeting points with Indian classical music.”
Summing up, his journey so far, Utsav shares one of his most humbling experiences. In Jun 2008, he was invited to perform a memorial concert for the Maharajah of Gwalior, Madha Rao Scindia at a 19th century Church in Cork, Ireland. Called the “Music amongst Mosaics” concert series, this was in honour of the support that the Maharajah had shown for construction of the church for his personal physician Dr.Alymers Croft.
“Performing “Ragas on a Piano " in a Church.... at the altar...under the stained glass window with Jesus looking down, I was surrounded by an international audience who greatly admired & respected the Maharajah and all things Indian. It was very unique and ethereal…. a once in a lifetime moment. A moment to be proud of India & a moment to do India proud! To me it was a humbling experience and gave the strong realisation that music has no geographical, cultural and religious divides. It can speak one language and is an incredible tool for communication.”


Here’s wishing the young ambassador, a very bright and musical future!

Ananya Mukherjee
My Little Magazine

The Guardian Angel

By Anindita Baidya
Anand, India
The small pilgrimage town of Deogarh in Jharkhand, 2010. Pallavi, the professor of organic chemistry in a sub-urban Women’s college has a lot to reminisce about. She has a fulfilling life, a happy family, a caring husband, doting in-laws and two beautiful twin daughters.
Looking out of the window of the small but well ventilated staff room, she feels a maddening familiarity in the air. The climate, the sunshine, the spring leaves and the fragrance of the air are all very familiar and brings nostalgia and madness to the otherwise calm and composed Pallavi. This, she has been experiencing since years.
The familiarity of such days of spring, time and again, takes her to her teenage years, spent at the posh three-storey bungalow of her grandfather in Daltonganj, the headquarters of Palamau district. She has always been in love with the beauty of that place. She loved her Palamau. Her forefathers have been aristocrats in the district since the British regime. Her grandfather once told her that Pa-la-mau stands for the three blessings, which nature has bestowed to the place: Pa for Palash, La for Lac and Mau for Mahua. And thus the intoxicating, beautiful Palamau. And in this backdrop, bloomed the love of a coy, quiet and introvert teenager.
Good in academics though, Physics and Chemistry were the subjects she needed help in. So her father hired Dilip, a young lad, belonging to the neighboring Chhatra district, as her tutor. Dilip was a student at the Science College, staying at a nearby hostel.
Dilip was just her opposite. A very cheerful person, he was an outright extrovert and loved to talk, although he maintained a composed persona whenever he visited Pallavi’s mansion. He hardly talked to Pallavi’s mother, grandmother or aunt; he would rather nod in a tamed way to offer ‘thanks’ when one of the ladies of the house would place a cup of tea and two thin-arrowroot biscuits before him while he helped Pallavi in solving the chemistry or physics problems. He would look so embarrassed while accepting the monthly tuition fee from Pallavi’s wealthy father that Pallavi wondered whether accepting wage for one’s labour was a sin!
Time flew during those years. Pallavi was a student of Std VII when she made Dilip her mentor for chemistry and physics. As years passed by, Dilip became her mentor not only for these two subjects, but for practically all the aspects in her tiny life. Dilip was the toughest critic of her literature works, the essays, short stories which she wrote and Dilip was the most lenient guardian when she came home with a hopelessly low score in chemistry.
He showed her different ways of looking at the world; he explained to her why her mother was so very vigilant about her during her teenage years. Sociology suddenly meant a new interesting subject to her and she was awakened to the terribly hard life which the peasants in her Palamau, faced. Dilip showed her that the world was totally different across the high walls of her grandfather’s bungalow. Now and then Dilip would also talk about some uprisings by some people, here and there, aimed at, according to him, a better livelihood and opportunity for them. But Pallavi hardly could make out anything out of these incidents. Her life was restricted to the high school, her three or four girl friends and her family. Apart from the men in her joint family, Dilip was the only man she knew and interacted with.
During her first year in the Government college, Pallavi met Subhash and fell in love with him but the relation was destined to break in a year’s time, when Subhash’s father was transferred and the family left the place. Subhash bid good bye without any promise for future.
Pallavi was left heartbroken and lost. It was then that Dilip narrated the tale of his own love affair with a girl from Chhatra and how she was married off to someone else and how Dilip coped and life moved on. Dilip explained that life has to move on and it is okay to carry on with one’s life even when someone leaves you mid-way. ‘Good girls’ can break their relation too, it is okay. There is no point in lingering the relation at one side only. Therefore, Pallavi regained herself slowly. She knew, if her mentor could have had a relation which did not materialize and still carry on with life so cheerfully, it is not wrong for anybody to leave behind the past. Later, she learnt that Dilip had only cooked up the story of a girl from Chhatra, just to help her out of the dilemma!
By the time she was in the third year of Chemistry honours, she had developed an affinity for Dilip. She did not know whether she wanted to spend her life with him; but she knew that Dilip was a perfect person. She unknowingly imitated him and unconsciously picked up his mannerisms. Whatever his thoughts were, to her, those were the ultimate truth. For her, Dilip was the best philosopher she ever knew.
Gradually, Pallavi realised that she loved him and also believed that one day he would ask her to marry him. When, she did not know; but she knew that it would happen. She never spoke it out before anyone, not even mentioned it in her daily diary but she was his, she knew.
During a trip to her cousin’s, at Bokaro, she collected some dozen Archies’ greeting cards for him, thinking, one day she will hand them over to him. While at a college trip to Puri beach, she bought a delicate decorative peacock made of sea-shells, knowing that one day it would be her gift of love to Dilip. And her collection grew as her love grew and the wait grew longer. She did not know whether Dilip even had one iota of knowledge about her feeling.
During the spring seasons, Dilip would insist that they sit at the balcony of the second floor to have the feel of the fresh air and listen to the cuckoo while solving the chemistry equations and sums. Those special moments made a permanent place in her mind.
During her third year, as the final exams were approaching, Dilip’s visit became erratic. He would be absent from Daltonganj at a stretch and then arrive for a day or two. The family wondered why this person, now in his early 30s, having helped Pallavi in tiding over all these years of academics, now was being so infrequent when Pallavi was to just finish her graduation.
Her university exams finished and she all the more longed for Dilip. Throughout her examination, he was absent. Now that she was almost a graduate, her family already had started searching for a suitable groom for her. Pallavi did not know what her stand should be. If only her guardian angel was near her to help her solve her dilemma.
On a similar spring afternoon, as Pallavi was seated at that same balcony, she heard the panicked voices of the ladies of the house. She rushed down to the ground floor, only to find her aunt beating her chest and mourning. Pallavi’s brother, with a pale and frightened face told her that there was a landmine burst at the police station where her uncle had been recently posted and that her uncle along with most of the persons in the station had lost their lives.
Pallavi’s uncle, a respected high official in the police, was recently posted at a station near Betla as a member of a special force, in an effort to combat the attacks on the police and government offices, which had in some past years become rampant. Pallavi doubted if these incidents had anything to do with the uprisings Dilip would, at times, passionately talk about some years back. In past two years Dilip did not mention anything about those.
The grief of death covered the house like a shroud. Her uncle’s body was identified only with the help of the gold chained Allwyn watch he had been wearing. Her family was struck with a mixture of grief, anger and feeling of revenge. They wanted the worst of punishments for the persons who had committed the crime and this aristocratic, influential family would use all its power to ensure it. Pallavi again yearned for Dilip. How much she wished he was by her side!
Just two days later the grim silence of the mourning mansion was yet again torn by the panicked voices of the men of the house. Two of the persons who were apparently involved in the landmine blast were killed in a combat. The newspaper had published the pictures of the dead. Pallavi waited for her turn to look at the newspaper.
Like a sudden landslide, the news article cruelly snatched the piece of earth from beneath her feet! She saw the photograph of Dilip, an injured and dead Dilip, with eyes shut and blood oozing out from the head. Whatever she could gather from the print in the newspaper, before losing her consciousness, read like this: “Dilip Kumar, the area commander of the warfare group from Chhatra and his companion, who were apparently involved in the landmine blast two days back, have been killed in a combat, near Hazaribagh, last night……”