of thoughts in ebb and flow

Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Words, unthinking words

I walked from the kitchen to the dining area carrying a pot of steaming hot sambar. Worried about someone bumping into me accidentally, I kept up a steady call of `Baaju, Baaju’ until I reached the table and lay down the pot.

“Have you noticed servers in crowded places in Kerala?” my father suddenly said, peering over the rim of his ever-present newspaper. “Or.. perhaps people carrying unwieldy stuff through crowded streets?” he added.

“Er.. yes, I suppose” said I, wondering where this was going.

“They say `Vayi, vayi, vayi’. Is it nicer somehow?…” he trailed off, disappearing behind the paper again.

I reflected on the two words. `Vayi (Malayalam word) means `way’. So, when you say `vayi vayi vayi’ it sounds like a request to offer you a way forward. ‘Baaju‘ (Marathi word), meaning, move aside, sounds more like a peremptory order to `get out of my way’. The way they are uttered could change their palatability I suppose. But still…`Vayi’ does sound more polite.

Is there another Marathi word that is generally used in this situation? I don’t know. But for now, time for `baaju’ to make way for`vayi’ in my vocabulary!

I wonder what other words we use unthinkingly in mundane, everyday situations pack an unintentional sting in their tail.

Beauty bias: What a birdie told me

I like to think I am not swayed by physical appearances. That my behavior is unbiased; at least in so far as looks are concerned. 

The (un)friendly neighbourhood pigeons came and cooed all morning outside my window. Cooed is too good a word for the sound they make.. more like incessant moans of pain, a friend once complained. I couldn’t agree more. But this pair seemed less in pain and more in an amorous mood. Ha. Maybe they were already anticipating the coming relationship pains. Smart.

Anyways, I said nasty things and aimed little pellets of mud at them to chase them away. Next thing I know you will be making your stinking nest here and I will have to contend with feathers and eggs and fledglings and … Go. Go do your romancing elsewhere.

As I stand at my kitchen sink rinsing the coffee mugs I see a little speckled brown bird swaying on an errant cable right outside the window. Oh, wait a minute. It’s not alone. There is another one sitting and softly chirping away on the water pipe a few inches away. How cute. Wait a minute .. they are building a nest. Right here. An inch from my window. They chose my window, of all the windows in the world, they chose MINE to make a home. OMG! That is tho thweeet!


And I called everyone at home to come see.. Hey, come see what a lovely pair they make. Shhhh.. don’t scare them. They are so, so little and look so fragile.

Uh. Oh. Wait a minute. What did I just say?

Did I hear an accusatory coo? I think I should be ashamed of myself. At least a little bit. What do you say?

When is `art’ born?


Is it art because it started off under that name in a studio or in the mind of someone who is considered an `artist’? Is it art because it is something that serves little `functional’ use? When it is `purposeless’? Is it art because it moves one?

I have no definite answers. Doubt I will ever have one. But here are some interesting ways of looking at it.

  1. Every piece of art has three `intents’ – the artist’s, the viewer’s and that of the object of art itself. When two these intersect..art is born. When all three intersect ..great art is born. That’s when we see something and go ..`this speaks to me’
  2. Any object can become art. When a viewer of the object finds herself projected into the piece… when she throws her emotions, her memories, her feelings into it.. at that moment is art born. She may feel herself inexorably drawn into the object … her hair may stand on end, her skin prickle, and she may lose track of her surroundings and time. That is the moment art is born. art q1Art is thus made, by the viewer and the artist together. The creativity belongs to both. Both of them invest equally to transform `object’ into `art’.
  1. When the creator moves beyond the minimum functional aspects in what they are creating, when she adds something more or puts it together differently .. for aesthetic pleasure or making a statement or conveying a message ..then art is born. Whistling in tune rather than a plain blast to hail someone – art, embellishing that plate of food with sprigs of herbs – art, making a lattice to hide the drain-pipes on the building façade – art

What do you think?

News – to believe or not to believe?

Just watched John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight episode on journalism. It talks about important stories, Spotlight-style investigative journalism being increasingly under threat.

He mentions a number of blows the industry is reeling under. Profitability becoming prime-focus leading to `popular’ replacing `important’ is one. Another is the reluctance of customers to pay for news. Yet another is the increasing media ownership by politicians/business houses leading to conflict of interest in content. (Memorable quote from the episode: We must pay for journalism or we will pay for it).

He talks about the situation in the US. But, hey, we seem headed the same way in India.

“I tell our journalists to get on Twitter and Facebook, because then they experience the gap between what they think is a good story and what people are reading”

“Sometimes, we will have to release something that is short and quick and exciting with one photograph attached. It may be superficial, but that is what works.

We are moving from pure news toward entertainment, short-form content, and fun videos. The definition of news has changed completely.”

So says Vineet Jain, Managing Director of BCCL (i.e.Times Group), India’s largest media conglomerate, in an interview to Strategy+Business titled `Vineet Jain on Leading India’s Media Into The Future’. BCCL, the article  points out,  owns the largest-selling English daily in the world – The Times Of India, the world’s second largest circulation business newspaper – The Economic Times, a clutch of FM radio stations, magazines and popular TV channels.

Gulp. I am worried about this new definition of news and the future he is leading media into.

That a number of Indian newspapers and TV channels are owned by politicians is not news any more. It is also well-known that Indian business houses have controlling stakes in a number of significant media properties. This is not to say that owners will always exert undue influence over the content. But it is naïve to believe there will be no conflict of interest at all.

Newspapers report that the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has decided to shut down several regional news units of All India Radio including ones in Pune, Allahabad, Bhuj, Dharwad, Coimbatore, Dharwad, Dibrugarh and Indore. Staff rationalisation, those in the know speculate.

The three-times-a-day news round up by Akashwani Pune is the source of much local and regional news in Maharashtra and I expect it has wide listenership. I expect it is the same with the other regional news stations on the closure list.

If the Government does not support a news channel that caters to regional markets who will step in? Should we leave it to market forces alone? Market forces that are moving away from pure news to news-tertainment? To media owned by political parties or business houses? What will happen to plurality of opinion, marginalised voices or dissenting ones?

Then again, if the experience of Dhiraj Singh, formerly Executive Director (Programming) of Lok Sabha TV, is any indication, then being a Government-run channel does not guarantee independence of operations. Read this article in The Outlook for what he has to say.

Where do we go from here?  Take every news we consume with a pinch of salt, nay, the whole salt shaker? Live knowing full well that all we read, see and hear on media is the half-truth or perhaps not the truth at all? Know that the stories that need telling may never see the light of day?

Gulp. Gulp.

Is there anything we can do?



Crime has no social penalties?

I walked into my building with the days errands done. There was the usual little stop and chat-a-while as I ran into neighbours. Some banter later I made my way home. A vague sense of unease lingered. Amongst the little group was a neighbour who had recently been on the wrong side of the law. The newspapers and the grapevine had filled us in on their shady dealings in much detail.  There had been much shock, surprise and disgust expressed in private conversations about this.

Yet, a few moments ago our conversation had not missed a beat as they joined in while passing by. No awkward silences, no strained hellos. Was it a charade staged for politeness? Well. It did not appear so to me. There was no subterranean `we know what you did and we think it was wrong’ thread at all. And I was left with this niggling sense of unease.

Today, I read about the `King of Good Times’ Vijay Mallya’s forthcoming 60th birthday party plans. Exclusive event. Enrique Iglesias and Sonu Nigam shows. 500-600 select crème-de-la-crème invitees. This, in the backdrop of his business being declared `willful defaulter’ by the largest public sector bank in the country. This, while he is being investigated by the CBI for a Rs 900 Cr. loan default to another bank. That he is the toast-of-the-town still, that being invited to this party is viewed as a privilege, that the party-goers do not feel a twinge of conscience ……

The niggling sense of unease rises up in me ..again

Do responsible members of a community have a role to play in nurturing a law-abiding society? Isn’t social acceptance a powerful tool we can use to encourage desirable behaviours in the group? And discourage undesirable ones?

Sure, law will take its course. But till then are we to wine and dine and make merry without a care? Perhaps I am being naive. Perhaps we should let `innocent unless proved guilty’ be the benchmark. Perhaps we should continue to not be disturbed by the daily assault on values until the court deems it worthy of attention. Perhaps we deserve the moral bankruptcy we are heading towards. Or are we there already?

Evening once more. I sit at the park bench. Happy screams of children rent the air. One little boy sits alone beside me. “Why are you not playing with the others?” I ask. “They are not allowing me to play” he says morosely. I call the kids over and ask why so. “ He used bad words and broke our bat when he got out last time” they said. “I won’t do it again. Mother promise” he says. And they run off to play together.

Where did we lose our way?

Second chances are for men

“I had no intention of remarrying. However, my father is old and suffers from diabetes and asthma” And so he re-married six months after losing his first wife in a landslide. He is 31 years old.

The newspaper article is titled `Surviving landslide, two men of Malin give life a second chance’.

This man, who married because his old father needed care, is a senior teacher with the Zilla Parishad.

” He (father) shifted to Pune to stay with my sister and her husband. I was feeling guilty about it. Besides, both my father and my sister’s husband felt that I should give life a second chance. I agreed.”

He re-married because he needed someone to look after his father. He sought counsel from his father and brother-in-law. Clearly the views of the girl he has now married are not of consequence. Including his sister in the decision-making was probably not top-of-mind either.

Wonder what she might have said if she had been asked. Would she have asked her brother to marry ..but for the right reasons? Would she have thought that in the first place? Or would she too have been happy that her brother was `giving life a second chance’ by finding a caretaker for his ageing father.

And to think he is a teacher, a senior one who is in charge of impressionable minds.

And to think educated journalists have written up a piece in this manner without a thought to what the sub-text says, without a thought to the powerful role they can play in influencing opinion.

And to think a respected newspaper in this country runs this piece without seeing the irony of it all.

Best of luck my dear country. Best of luck `Beti Bachao Beti Padhao’.

Ganesha – more than meets the eye

The annual drama of Ganeshotsav has just heard its last dhol-taasha for the year. My maid is wearing her woebegone `What do i do for the rest of the year ‘ look. The withdrawal symptoms are evident everywhere.

Though I am but a casual bystander in this annual ritual I must admit it is a definite mood-upper. There is something about the portly elephant-god that connects with most everyone.

“You may have wondered”, said the writer of a book I read recently, ” why this ridiculous and absurd image for a God” …frankly, I had not wondered.. I had accepted it matter-of-factly. A curious kid, growing up in an average Hindu household, learns very soon that wondering about the millions of Gods,  the festivals, the rituals .. is most often an exercise in futility. At best you get a half-baked, intellectually un-appeasing answer. If you persist in your wondering line of inquiry it soon changes to angry looks from `elders’ and a quick whack – time and place permitting.  So well, I had not wondered. I had unquestioningly accepted the wonderful modaks and other delectable `prasad‘.

Now that I am sure such questions will not mean the goodies get taken away, I have begun to peel away some layers of symbolic meaning. And I quite enjoyed the result. Here’s some stuff I discovered:

Ganapati is revered as the one with `perfect wisdom’ and hence qualifies to be the patron saint, so to say, for students seeking wisdom or those seeking to be the `man (or woman) of perfection’ .

Ganesha Symbolism

The path of wisdom calls for

  • intellectual engagement. The student must have a great head  –  voilà Ganapati’s elephant(sized) head
  • ability to listen continuously and intelligently  – the big ears
  • ability to handle the outer, material world as well as the inner layers of consciousness  – reflected in the curling elephant trunk that has the strength to uproot and pick up trees (gross elements) yet is flexible and sensitive enough to pluck a blade of grass (the subtle realms)
  • for discriminating between dualities (right/wrong; good/evil) : the trunk (discriminating between) the two tusks

The `perfect human‘ would have

  • an endless appetite for life (Yaaay!!) – Ganapati’s well-known love of food;
  • An ability to handle with equanimity all life-experiences, good and bad – the big belly that digests all that is fed to it
  • Yet know that fulfillment comes from burning the desires of the senses – Ganpati’s hunger being appeased by a handful of puffed (roasted in fire) rice
  • Mind subservient to the intellect – Ganapati seated with one foot on the ground (the second – the mind – folded into it)
  • The pleasures of the world his for the taking – the delicious food at Ganapati’s feet
  • Yet complete control over the indulgence in it  – the mouse that waits for the masters approval before indulging in all the tempting food around it

There’s more about the things he holds in his hands.. in the image below (Image source: Purnatravels)

Interesting huh? And one thought it was just that the elephant was the first unlucky specimen that happened to be ambling by when Shiva was desperately looking for a replacement head for his wife’s creative output!

Om Ganeshaya Namaha!

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