Basant Panchami and Valentines Day

We are having a week of celebrations. In my last blog, I touched upon the festival of Maghi Ganesh Jayanti, which is celebrated especially with great enthusiasm in the states of Maharashtra and Goa (personally very important for me with both my grandsons having being born during this festival period). The celebrations peaked yesterday with traditional areas of Mumbai like Dadar taking out processions with tableaux and Lezim by school children.

However, beginning the 7th of February, the love week has already started. The first day is the Rose Day, followed by Propose day, Chocolate Day, Teddy Day, Promise Day, Hug Day, Kiss Day, culminating into the Valentines Day on 14th of February. Originating as a WesternChristian feast day honouring an early saint named Valentinus, Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love in many regions around the world. Initially opposed by traditionalists as western culture vitiating the Indian ethos, it is now largely accepted, as anything to do with love cannot be crass, crude or undesirable and ought to be beautiful. Moreover, India has its own legacy celebrating sex and romance as a form of art as depicted in the architecture of Ajanta and Ellora and elaborately explained in classic treatise Kama Sutra.

As I wrote in one of my earlier blogs, we probably grew up too fast and too soon, because Valentines Day was relatively unknown and unheard of during our youth. However, Basant Panchami, the fifth day of the month of Magh as per Hindu calendar that heralds the end of bitter cold and advent of spring, was celebrated with much fan fare, especially in schools as Saraswati Puja. Falling tomorrow on Sunday the 10th of February is this year’s Basant Panchami. Let’s not forget our legacy and keep our children abreast of our traditions and culture also along with Valentines Day. After all, isn’t India a nation of multiplicity? If Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians can co-exist, Basant Panchami/ Maghi Ganesh Jayanti and Valentines Day can surely too be celebrated together.

My friend’s travel company Marvilla that’s very fast establishing itself as a company of great substance has found a unique way of greeting its patrons on festive occasions. I had earlier shared their post that they had issued on the eve of Lohri. I now share their most recent post wishing their customers happy Basant Panchami and Saraswati Puja that reads as:

Happy festival week to all my readers

Krishna Das of Juhu Circle

Everyday, standing in a corner of super busy Juhu circle, a frail short person dressed in dhoti and kurta can be seen holding a placard that reads, ” Apne dharam pe chalo; sabse prem karo “, which can be translated as, “Follow your religion, love everyone.” He is neither a beggar, nor a preacher, but a selfless proponent of peace expecting nothing, but brotherhood.

Having stayed in Juhu for more than half a decade, Krishna Das was no stranger as we often came across him. However, our preoccupation with work and busy daily Mumbai life never allowed us to engage with the person.

His reference got refreshed today, when en route office while hearing FM, the jockey made a mention of him. The man, who can always be seen standing quietly with his placard, speaks so well, as I heard him on radio. When asked about dharma or religion by RJ, he gave an amazing explanation. He said, ” Religion is not Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christianity, Zoroastrian or Jew. These are artificial man made societal divisions. Religion is endless, continuous, immeasurable, vast, indivisible, indiscriminate like sky, earth or ocean. These natural elements have no beginning or end; they give their benefit or virtuosity to all humans irrespective of their caste, creed or religion.”

However, what he said lastly compelled me to ponder over and think differently. He said, “Religion is Sanatan or self created (God’s creation), like earth, sea or sky as no one knows how and when it came into existence.” I now know why our religion was always known as Sanatan Dharma, indicating an all encompassing, non discriminatory, auto created, in existence since time immemorial , the purest form of Hinduism. The message he conveys from his placard is that you love your religion, which is humanity, because only then can you love other human beings.

Maghi Ganesh

The fourth day of the month of Magha in Hindu calendar is celebrated as Ganesh Jayanti or more precisely Maghi Ganesh Jayanti. This festival is celebrated with special gaiety in the states of Maharashtra and Goa.

When in Mumbai, you can hardly remain unaffected by Siddhivinayak temple and if you’re a regular visitor there, you very well know the significance of the Maghi Ganesh Jayanti. When the first born to my daughter, Grahish Arjun, came into this world during Maghi Ganesh Jayanti festival period, our joy knew no bound and we started calling him (still call him and probably forever call him) Maghi Ganesh. We took it as Lord’s blessings to our family. My wife being a very special devotee to the Lord felt even more ecstatic.

When our daughter informed us about her second pregnancy, we were a bit worried that how would she manage two small babies separated by only 2 years. Little did we realise that second baby would also be destined to take birth during Maghi Ganesh Jayanti festival period. When we got the news of the baby’s birth today, we once again felt blessed at the bounties of the Lord on our family. As our son in law put it very aptly – both their babies are blessed babies.

Happy Maghi Ganesh Jayanti and fulfilment of all wishes of having a complete family to our daughter and her husband!

Pavement vendors

Just saw a school girl, returning home after attending afternoon school shift, enjoying the last drop of her manchow soup from a roadside vendor. At Rs10 for a soup bowl that contains some veggies also, the girl seemed to be having a good deal that was value for her hard earned pocket money. And it’s not only the neighbourhood Chinese stall that sells a soup bowl for Rs10, half a plate of veg chowmein for Rs30 and some manchurian for Rs.25, but also a dosa stall giving crispy hot masala dosa for Rs25, idlis and vadas at Rs5 apiece and fluffy onion Uthappam for Rs30, served with two types of chutneys and sambhar. And a rice plate for Rs40 is a full meal comprising two chapatis, vegetable, dal, rice and pickle. Mumbai’s vada paav is still a hearty meal for Rs10 while samosa, India’s favourite snack at Rs10 a piece is great accompaniment for a cup of hot tea that costs another Rs10. Bhelpuri, sukha bhel, singh chana mix, popcorn at Rs5 or Rs10 are great energy boosters for a tired person.

The thought of this blog came to me when I saw that small school girl whetting her hunger and satisfying her taste buds by having Rs10 soup and this sight changed my views diametrically. Having visited some of the iconic overseas locations, I had become a stickler for cleanliness and orderliness. The wide and well appointed pavements bereft of encroachment by vendors, spic and span with not even a hint of dirt, people strolling or cycling lazily that I got exposed to while being abroad, made me strongly abhor the congested, fully encroached, dirty, uneven pavements of Mumbai. I also detested trash being disposed on roads and pavements by these roadside vendors. But the above sight has changed it all. Even an ordinary sweet shop sells samosa for Rs20 that can go up to Rs30 in a more upmarket restaurant. A meal in a 5 star hotel can cause as much as Rs2500 per head! When the not so well off elements of the society can be served hot delicacies at affordable prices, why should the elite resent these food shops for encroaching pavement? I am planning a different mission from henceforth- I will strive for regularising these small vendors by helping them get licence, sensitising them to improving hygiene, telling them to put up their stalls at strategic locations that do not block a pavement fully and educating them on trash management. Freshly cooked, hotly served and deliciously prepared affordable food is the right of the deprived of this country. It also provides self employment to millions of budding entrepreneurs . We only need to manage them more intelligently and scientifically.

Poetry in Bollywood

We all know that the standard of Bollywood music has deteriorated greatly over the years. From Indian raga and folk music based music to medley and fusion, mainly influenced by Western sounds, to the current fad of rap and Sufi, the Bollywood music seems to have plunged to new low, where its all noise and cacophony, but no melody whatsoever!

However, the point that gets missed in all this debate is even steeper decline in the standard of poetry or lyrics, the preferred term used for Bollywood songs. Sahir was the poet first and then a lyricist. So were Shakeel, Majrooh, Shailendra and Hasrat. Sahir beautifully captured the pathos of break up between lovers in his all time hit, “Chalo ik baar phir se ajnabi ban jaaye hum dono ” from hit movie Gumrah, which incidentally is my personal favourite song too! The song further says, “tarruf rog ho jaaye to usko bhulna behtar, talluk bojh ban jaaye to usko todna achha” , which can be loosely translated as ” if familiarity becomes a disease, it deserves to be forgotten; if relationship becomes a burden, it deserves to be severed”. What depth, what profoundness! Compare it with another so called “hit track” from recent Ranbir- Anushka block buster ” Ae Dil hai Mushkil” that says, ” dil pe pathar rakh ke munh pe make up kar liya, mere saiyan ji se aaj maine breakup kar liya ” , which can be loosely translated as , ” by making my heart stronger and putting make up on my face, I am celebrating break up with my lover”. Though translation is hardly required as half of the words are colloquial or English, this sounds so shallow and crass.

It is true that one of the earliest reasons for decline in standard of poetry was the meter being provided to the lyricist in the form of a pre composed tune by the music director, within which the lyricist was required to fit the words, the poets of yore could still manage the challenge by infusing life and feelings into their poetry. Rajendra Krishan wrote, “khuda bhi aasman se jab zameen par dekhta hoga, mere mahboob ko kisne banaya sochta hoga” for Rajendra Kumar starrer Dharti that can be loosely translated as ” God while looking at my beloved from heaven must be wondering did he only create this wonder?” to today’s cheap and crass description of women as namkeen, patakha and what not really that is representative of the new low that Bollywood music has hit. Gulzar has grown old, while Javed Akhtar has gone into hibernation. There are a few good poets in younger lot; hope their creativity is valued and respected by Bollywood, or we shall have to move to private music for melody and substance.

Chanda Kochhar- Guilty or Victim

Chanda Kochhar has had a severe fall from grace. From an iconic leader, who gave new direction to ICICI Bank, she seemed to have come the full circle after the Bank’s board decision to terminate her services, claw back all incentives given to her since 2009 and cancel all the stock options granted to her which had yet not been vested! Awarded a Padma Bhushan, the highest civilian honour in 2011, the question is does she deserves the end that has been meted out to her by her institution that she served with so much distinction over the years?

Without going into the details of her illustrious career and her meteoritic rise as the head of the second largest bank of the country, which is a stuff folklores are made up of and which can be perused all over, including in Wikipedia on her, the question is when are we going to get over this patriarchal mindset? Her Board approved sanction of certain facilities to Videocon group, who also had some dealings with her husband! Chanda, in her lifetime, received several felicitations and earned substantial monies through salary, bonuses and stock options, the scale and extent of which could well be beyond the imagination of most of us! That she agreed to compromise her position and propriety for gain of few crores to her husband is hard to digest! The proposal for sanction of loan to Videocon came through proper channel after due assessment and was sanctioned by the Bank’s board after following the laid down process. Was any material information on the financial profile or dealings hidden from the Board and could be attributable directly to Chanda? Can it be conclusively proved that Deepak Kochhar brokered the deal for Videocon and got gratification or was that a separate unconnected deal between Deepak and Videocon?

It’s a matter of great worry and shame that women associated with business world in India continue to be treated at two extremes! On one hand, we have businessmen unabashedly using their wives’ for balance sheet and tax management, though women are blissfully unaware of all the consequences, putting their signatures on the dotted lines as directed by their husbands. On the other hand, highly independent, qualified and successful women like Chanda have to bear the brunt for alleged misdemeanours (alleged because still not conclusive) of their husbands!

Let the women lead lives of their own – whether home maker or professional- without compulsively or necessarily dragging them into acts of omission and commission of their husbands! After all, all that Chanda achieved over the years (academically, professionally and personally) cannot be slave to one act, proper or improper, by her husband. She deserves to be heard and given an opportunity to clarify her position before the world at large fixes its opinion on Chanda.

Positivity

Why should we pan the reputation of India’s first Prime Minister Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru by blaming him for partition of the country along with Jinnah, talking about his affairs (especially with Lady Edwina Mountbatten) and his Muslim lineage? Why can’t we talk about his leadership, charisma, erudition, principles of Panchshila, his contribution to the nation building in the form of large dams, steel plants and other industrial plants?

Why Indira’s reputation is maligned for emergency related excesses and operation blue star? Why is she not eulogised for her deft handling of situation in East Pakistan that led to creation of Bangladesh and India’s great strides in space technology during her reign? If her population control measures during emergency were executed well and politicians cutting across ideologies had supported the move, India’s 2011 census might have been different and burden on India’s agriculture and natural resources might have been lesser!

Why we remember Rajiv only for anti Sikh riots post Indira’s assassination? He was the first person to bring an element of entrepreneurship in governance. He was disciplined, clean and well mannered. His work in the field of science and telecom was pioneering!

Was PV Narasimha Rao only a puppet PM? We remember him for the tragic event of Barbari Masjid demolition that happened during his reign, but not for the tremendous work done by his then FM Dr Manmohan Singh in salvaging India’s finances from the brink of bankruptcy!

Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not only a great orator, but one of the finest administrators, the Country ever saw! However, it’s a fashion to mock him from his much ridiculed “India Shining” campaign rather to praise him for his tremendous work on India’s infrastructure development!

Dr. Manmohan Singh was no silent spectator, but an extremely erudite scholar who brought sanity to Indian polity by completing two terms ! Why is such a scholarly person remembered only for his lackadaisical speeches and not for his remarkable honesty and straightforwardness?

And will the stigma of Gujarat riots overshadow all the good work being done by Modi in the form of India’s international standing, economic reforms, IBC, Swachch Bharat, Mann ki Baat etc? Will the entire country gang up against him by throwing all their respective ideologies to wind by opposing Modi’s re-election?

Great AB Vajpayee, who had the rightist lineage but was a moderate to the core, had ideological differences but no enemies. He was loved and respected by people cutting across political, social and religious preferences. This was because he was reasonable , balanced and rational. While not afraid of calling a spade a spade, he was generous with compliments for good deeds done – whether the same were done by a friend or an enemy. Can we have more Vajpayees in today’s political milieu to give it a semblance of orderliness?