December 28, 2006

Thank you

In 2006,
four people
very close to me
were involved
in accidents.

All escaped

Somehow I get
a feeling
that God
my blog.

Thank you, God.

December 27, 2006

Year TwoKaySeven

Plant a tree . Consume less . Think about the Earth . In the new year.

December 20, 2006

Sawai Gandharva: answers to a first-timer’s questions

I had a lot of researching to do before my Sawai trip, and it wasn’t easy finding answers to practical questions. I was doubtful till the last minute about whether I would get tickets at all.

Here are some answers to questions a person going to attend Sawai Gandharva for the first time would have.

1. Is there a Sawai website?
Yes, there is... but it may not always have answers to your questions.

2. When is this festival held?
In 2006, it was held 7–11 Dec. As I understand, it is usually in the second week of December, ending usually on a Sunday.

3. Where is it held?
Since a few years the New English School, Ramanbaug has been hosting this festival. This school is quite close to the railway station.

4. Where are tickets available?
In 2006, they were available in some specified places in Pune from 1 December. The announcement about this was made in Pune newspapers and radio a week or so earlier. So you need help from a Pune-ite to get tickets. Also, only two tickets are given per head. However, tickets for Bharatiya baithak can be bought at the venue every day.

5. Are tickets available online?
Not that I know of.

6. How much do the tickets cost?
Rs 350 for the Bharatiya baithak; Rs 1600 season ticket (4 days) for chairs.

7. Any hotels close by where one can stay?
We were advised to stay in Hotel Shreyas (Apte Road) an affordable place, with a restaurant attached. It is not too far away from the concert venue. For the five-star hotel types, there is the Meredian, bang next to the railway station.

December 17, 2006

Sawai Gandharva: excellence, simplicity, genuineness

I do not have a very deep understanding or knowledge of Hindustani classical music as many others I know, but I have grown up with it, and have been listening to it for a long time now, and really enjoy it. I treated myself to a trip to Pune to attend the 54th Sawai Gandharva music festival, 7–11 December this year. This festival was started by Bhimsen Joshi in memory of his Guru Sawai Gandharva, in 1952, and is one of the best-known classical music events in India.

I can describe this experience using just one word that everyone understands very well: AWESOME. But I will go on to say that being part of this festival was to be part of what has become a tradition of excellence...excellence in music, excellence in organization, excellence in audience behaviour, and excellence in compering. It is sheer pleasure to witness such an event.

For musicians who are invited to perform here, it is an indication that they have ‘arrived’. They all do their best...and the knowledgeable audience passes instant judgement by their hearty applause...or lack of it.

The list of musicians this year was as below:
Day 1. Shailesh Bhagwat (Shahnai); Meena Phatarphekar; Dilshad/Saabir Khan (Sarangi); Shashwati Mandal; Ustad Raashid Khan.

Day 2. Kamlakar Naik from Goa (I loved his Sab jhoote jag ke yeh naate); Padma Deshpande (her naatyasangeet piece Roopbalee to narashaardool in Raag Kaafi is still ringing in my head); Pandit Shivkumar Sharma (wow!); Kaushiki Chakravarty (wow! wow!), and Pandit Jasraj (audiences love him!).

Day 3: Hema Upasani (very good); Manju Mehta (Sitar--played despite arthritis); Rahul Deshpande (wow! wow!) Debu Chowdhury (Sitar--very good); and Malini Rajurkar (as always, very good).

Day 4 morning: Parmeshwar Hegde; Rakesh Chaurasia (flute—his Pahadi dhun was oh! so melodious, with ghungroo sounds for added effect!) Asha Khadilkar (she’s good); and Madhav Gudi (voice and style just like Bhimsen Joshi).

Day 4 evening: Hemant Pendse; Anant Terdal (unique voice); Shubha Mudgal (what presence!); Amjad Ali Khan (wow!); and Deepak Maharaj (Kathak—very good, but it was like a lec-dem); The festival was supposed to end with Prabha Atre but she had a sore throat, so it ended with Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples singing Bhairavi. More about this treat in later paras.

I missed the first day, but attended the 2nd, 3rd and 4th days. At Sawai, I realised that one has to redefine one’s favourites, and add to their list of favourites...three newcomers stood out this year, and walked straight into the audience’s hearts: 25-year old Kaushiki Chakravarti, who sings brilliantly, is beautiful, and expressive (she must have stolen all 12,000 hearts!); Rahul Deshpande, who is someone to watch out for...his creativity and spontaneity are astounding; and Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of Hariprasad Chaurasia, in whose hands the bansuri weaves melodious magic, much like it does in the hands of his uncle.

I discovered why some of the all-time greats are what they are: Pandit Jasraj, Shiv Kumar Sharma, and Amjad Ali Khan. They have mastered the art of enchanting audiences by their music, which is but an extension of their beings.

Other interesting aspects apart from the music itself: More than 10,000 people attended every day...on the last day, there must have been double that number!

Pandit Bhimsen Joshi came a few times...his car drove right in and he listened from the car. Many a musician said they prayed that he would sing next year.

One thing touched me very much. See photo. This man was led into and out of the concert place by this little boy (his grandson?) several times during the 3 days I attended.

The seating arrangements are amazing. Almost everyone gets to sit...either on sofas or chairs or on the ground in the baithak style. If someone sitting on the chairs goes away, the chair remains one comes and sits on it. Kudos to the discipline of the Sawai audiences!

There are food stalls behind, and in the lane outside, selling simple, tasty food. There are a few stalls selling music and related articles, such as books, Shruthi boxes, calendars, etc. It gave me immense happiness to buy a Shruthi box for my daughter from this sacred place...what’s more, the brand I was recommended to buy was Raagini—same as my daughter’s name!

A line about the compere Anand Deshmukh: he has a great voice; he uses just enough words; does not dominate the show; has a sense of humour; and gracefully fits into the Sawai Gandharva tradition of excellence.

The ending of this year’s festival was unique too. Bhimsen Joshi’s disciples (including son Srinivas Joshi and Madhavgudi) sang Jamuna ke teer (Bhairavi). It was a touching moment when Joshi’s contemporary, Pt. Firoz Dastur (now 87, very old and feeble, and hardly able to talk), suddenly began to sing along! The applause all around was thunderous!

I would not be exaggerating if I said that when one attends Sawai Gandharva, one gets a taste of what heaven must be like.


December 12, 2006

Red seeds that look like beads

Colour possesses me. I don’t have to pursue it. It will possess me always, I know it. Color and I are one. – Paul Klee

Me too...I am attracted by colour, wherever I see it. And where better than in nature? Just look at these seeds...aren't they brilliant?

This one's called Abrus (Abrus precatorius). It has many other names: Jequirity, Crab’s Eye, Rosary Pea, etc. Some Indian names for Abrus are: Guriginja (Telugu), Kunni (Malayalam), Coondrimany (Tamil), Galaganji (Kannada), Ghungchi (Hindi), Kunch (Bengali), Gunj (Marathi).

I have seen jewellers using these attractive seeds to weigh gold and silver. Each seed has a remarkably uniform weight of 1/10th of a gram. The seed is highly poisonous. They look like ladybugs and are used in jewellery.
I spotted this tree (photo above right) in KBR Park, Banjara Hills (I had never seen one before). This is what it looks like in February.

This splash of red is from the Coral bean seeds from the Coral bean tree (right), also called red sandalwood, sagaseed tree, red-bead tree, Raktakambal in Hindi (Adenanthera pavonina).

This one’s a family favourite. We collect these red seeds when we go for walks to Indira Park nearby. The red dots on brown earth make a very pretty sight. Children love collecting them.

These seeds too are toxic, and can only germinate if they are scarified or boiled for one minute. Like Abrus, these seeds were also used to weigh gold. Four seeds make up about one gram. In fact the name "saga" is apparently traced to the Arabic term for "goldsmith".

If anyone knows what this tree/seed is called in other Indian languages, please tell me...I am interested.

Photos from Sadhana's Kodak

December 01, 2006

Mahasweta Devi's India

Moving on from Bettina Guthridge's India (see earlier post), here is a beautiful and touching description of India and its culture, by the 80-year old Bengali writer, Mahasweta Devi. These are excerpts from her passionate speech on India at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2006.

 “At 80-plus I move forward often stepping back into the shadows. Sometimes I am bold enough to step back into the sunlight. As a young person, as a mother, I would often move forward to when I was old. Amuse my son. Pretend I couldn’t hear or see. Make mockery of memory, forget things that had happened a moment ago. These games were for fun. Now they are no longer funny. My life has moved forward and is repeating itself. I am repeating myself. Recollecting for you what has been. What is. What could have been. May have been.

See the tree, the forest, the field lush with crops, a stream dazzling i
n sunlight. And see, the spotted deer are jumping and fleeing to the forest, the mothers are filling the pitchers from the stream, clutching their children. And the houses are the ones they left behind at Badihatta. The sun is leaning to see the earth. The peasants are irrigating their fields. What an expanse of forest. How green the hills are.

Nothing happens unless you know how to dream. The Establishment is out to destroy, by remote control, all the brain cells that induce dreams. But some dreams manage to escape. I am after the dreams that have escaped from jail. The right to dream is what allows mankind to survive. If you end the right to dream — which the entire world and everyone is doing — you destroy the world. The right to dream should be the first fundamental right. The right to dream. [...]

There’s a story about Nanak — his father made him sit in a shop, told him to sell goods… dus, gyarah, barah, tera… tera, tera, tera... and he gave everything away. Everything is yours. With me, everything became tera… nothing touches the inside. Material things don’t touch me, I remain an outsider, I can’t always be an insider. Genuine warmth, real understanding, some friendship, a few strange things touch me, but I’m an outsider and an insider at the same time. [...]

Since the 1980s, I have been vocal about the daily injustice and exploitation faced by the most marginalised and dispossessed of our people: tribals, the landless rural poor who then turn into itinerant labour or pavement dwellers in cities. Through reports in newspapers, through petitions, court cases, letters to the authorities, participation in activist organisations and advocacy, through the grassroots journal I edit, Bortika, in which the dispossessed tell their own truths, and finally through my fiction, I have sought to bring the harsh reality of this ignored segment of India’s population to the notice of the nation, I have sought to include their forgotten and invisible history in the official history of the nation. I have said over and over, our Independence was false; there has been no Independence for these dispossessed peoples, still deprived of their most basic rights.

Let the people trace their hands over every alphabet until they can write for themselves: 
I know, I can, I will.

How to save and protect one’s culture in these circumstances? Which culture do we protect? And what do we mean when we speak of Indian culture in the 21st century? What culture? Which India? Sixty years after our hard-won Independence, the khadi sari is India just as the mini skirt and the backless choli is. A bullock cart is India just as much as is the latest Toyota or Mercedes car. Illiteracy haunts us, yet the same India produces men and women at the forefront of medicine, science and technology. Eight-year-old children toil mercilessly, facing unimaginable working conditions and abuse as child labourers. That is India. On the other hand, there is another lot of eight-year-olds who spend their time in air-conditioned classrooms and call their mothers at lunch break using their personal mobile phones. That too is India. Satyam Shivam Sundaram is India. Choli ke peechchey kya hai is also India. The multiplex and the mega mall are India. The snake charmer and the maharishi — they too are India.

Indian culture is a tapestry of many weaves, many threads. The weaving is endless as are the shades of the pattern. Somewhere dark, somewhere light, somewhere saffron, somewhere as green as the fields of new paddy, somewhere flecked with blood, somewhere washed cool by the waters of a Himalayan spring. Somewhere the red of a watermelon slice. Somewhere the blue of an autumn sky in Bengal. Somewhere the purple of a musk deer’s eye. Somewhere the red of a new bride’s sindoor. Somewhere the threads form words in Urdu, somewhere in Bengali, somewhere in Kannada, somewhere in Assamese, yet elsewhere in Marathi. Somewhere the cloth frays. Somewhere the threads tear. But still it holds. Still. It holds.

The pattern shifts, flows, stutters, forms again and changes shape from one season to the other. I see one India in the pattern. You see another. Light and shadow play. History and modernity collide. Superstition and myth, Rabindrasangeet and rap, Sufi and Shia and Sunni, caste and computers, text and sub-plot, laughter and tears, governments and oppositions, reservations and quotas, struggles and captivity, success and achievement, hamburgers and Hari Om Hari, Sanskrit and sms, the smell of rain and the sound of the sea. A seamless stitching. Many, many hands have stitched, are stitching and will continue to stitch India. My country. Torn, tattered, proud, beautiful, hot, humid, cold, sandy, bright, dull, educated, barbaric, savage, shining India. My country. And its myriad cultures. From time immemorial to now, the 21st country. From the Indus Valley to the bluetooth handset, India has seen it all, contains it all within itself and its cultures. There is room in India for all faiths, all languages, all people. Despite the communal crises, despite the fundamentalism, the backwardness of rural life, the memories of underdevelopment which are no memory but reality for us, the threat of aids, tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and droughts, farmer suicides, police violence, environmental disasters wreaked by industries and farmland being bought over by multinational companies, despite the battering by history and circumstance, India still is. Its culture still is. Hence we all still are. India has learnt to survive, to adapt, to keep the old with the modern, to walk hand in hand with the new millennium whistling a tune from the dawn of time. This is truly the age when the joota is Japani, the patloon Englistani, the topi Roosi. But the dil — the dil is and always will remain Hindustani.

As we face the future, and as I stand here, invited to speak of my country’s culture before such an eminent gathering and at such an honourable occasion, I wish to share my dream of where I would like to see my India go. I have spoken of the fundamental right to dream. I would now like to exercise that right.

I dream of an India where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Where knowledge is free. Where the world has not been broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls. Where words come out of the depth of truth. Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection. Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way in the dreary sand of dead habit.

I dream of an India to which the world ‘backward’ does not and cannot ever apply. I wish to be Third World no more but First, the only world. I wish for children to be educated. I wish for women to step into the light. I wish for justice for the common man. Survival for the farmer. Homes for the poor. And hope for all. I wish for debts to cease. For poverty to vanish. For hunger to become a bad word that no one utters. I wish for the environment to be protected, to be loved and restored. I wish the land to be healed, the waters to be pure again. For the tiger to survive. I wish for self reliance, for self respect, for independence from the shackles of superstition. I wish for equal medical aid for all.

For light and water and a roof above every head. I wish for more and more books to be written, to be published, in every language there is in the country. Let the words pour out. Let the stories be told. Let the people read. Let them learn to read. To trace their fingers over every alphabet until they can spell their names. Their addresses. Until they can write for themselves: I know. I can. I will. Let us fight ignorance with knowledge. Let us battle hatred with logic. Let us slay evil with the sword of the pen.

I wish for no more satis, no more dowry deaths, no more honour killings, no more flesh being bought and sold. Let no more parents sell their children to survive. Let no more mothers drown their daughters in the dead of night. Let the downtrodden awake, let the forgotten faces and the muffled voices arise to claim their own. Let the pattern make room, let these new threads find place, let new colours set afire the tapestry. Set ablaze the future. Into that heaven of freedom, let my India awaken again and again. It is a big dream, I know. But not an impossible one.

When I speak of Indian culture, then, I speak of all this. Culture is what will take us into the future yet keep us in close contact with our roots, our history, our tradition, our heritage. Culture will let us take a quantum leap and land on the moon bur first, before all that, it must help us take a few small steps towards understanding ourselves better, towards knowing each other better. Culture must once again remind us to be a tolerant and truly secular people.

I have tried in my own way to give you a picture of this culture. But how am I to even to begin arriving at a definition that will be acceptable to all across an India that is so chaotic. So calm. So flexible. So rigid. So rich. So poor. So understanding. So easy to be misunderstood. After all, there are many Indias, as I say over and over again. Simultaneous. Even parallel.

And whose culture is it anyway? Yours? Mine? Theirs? There are so many ‘theirs’ in the land of my birth who have nothing but the harsh landscape of surviving from day to day. The dispossessed remain with us after six decades of becoming possessed of a freedom we all fought for. They all fought for.

I claim elsewhere to have always written about the ‘culture of the downtrodden’. How tall or short or true or false is this claim? The more I think and write and think some more, the harder it gets to arrive at a definition. I hesitate. I falter. I cling to the belief that for any culture as old and ancient as ours to have survived over time and in time, there could only be one basic common and acceptable core thought: humaneness. To accept each other’s right to be human with dignity.

This then is my fight. My dream. In my life and in my literature.”

I edited this post on 17 Feb 2017. What you see here is almost the whole speech. Earlier I had posted only paras that are in bold, and had given a link to the Tehelka website, but that is no longer working. Mahasweta Devi died on 28 July 2016, about 10 years after she gave this speech. This makes these words all the more precious.

(Thanks to Savitri who sent me the speech; photo of bead sellers above, taken by Sadhana at Tirupati Nov 2004)

November 23, 2006

'Buying second hand false teeth in India'

I read a children’s book on India recently. It is titled, ‘Travelling solo to India’ and has been written and illustrated by Bettina Guthridge. It was first published in Australia by Omnibus Books in 2000, and re-published in 2001 by Southwood Books Limited, London. This book is very attractive-LOOKING; the illustrations are colourful and alive.

But, start READING the book, and problems begin. First of all, it takes a very superficial and partial look at a diverse country. And then, on almost every page there are bloomers—mostly factual—and hilarious ones at that! Here are some of Ms Guthridge’s observations of India.

Page 1: The main languages (in India) are Hindi and English.
Page 12: There is not much work in the country, and so many Indians go and live in the cities. Just two pages later, on page 14, the author contradicts herself saying: In the small villages in the country people live close together and help each other. There is always work to do.
Page 13: Millions of children live on the street (see illustration).
Page 18: Because cities are so crowded many Indians work on the street. Here you can have your ears cleaned or buy some second hand false teeth. (please, someone tell me where you get them...and I desperately want to meet someone who buys second hand false teeth)
Page 20: Rich children go to school by taxi. Poor children walk to school.
Page 24: There are not many cars in India. Most people are too poor to own a car.
Page 26: Trains are very crowded and never run on time. Some people travel on the roof. This costs nothing. (see illustration)

Page 30: Hindus believe that after you die your soul is reborn in another form, as an insect, an animal or a person.
Page 34: Many Hindu gods take the form of animals. Because of this, Hindus do not eat meat. Page 35: The white cow is special to Hindus. Cows wander the streets eating from fruit and vegetable stalls. Even poor shop keepers do not mind.
Page 48: The Moguls loved to hunt. They killed many wild animals. Today there are reserves to protect the animals that are left.
Page 56: Indians love singing and dancing. The sitar, the tamboura and the tabla are heard at every festival and wedding, or in the market place.
Page 59: It is thought that one tiger is killed every day in India. Parts of the body are used to make medicine.

I have returned this book to the library, with post-it stickers marking every other page, with a request that this book be taken off the shelves. I would have emailed a complaint to the author / publishers online, but could not find their email id on the net. I also tried writing a review on Amazon, but unless I buy from them (which, unfortunately I can't, from India) I cannot write a review. So I record this in my blog...and will follow this up with a snail mail complaint. Publishing, especially for children, should certainly be more responsible than this.

However, in all fairness, I would like to say that if this book had only drawings and no words, it would have been fantastic. Something like our own Mario Miranda’s book on Paris. Ms Guthridge is, without doubt, a highly talented illustrator.

There are five other books in this series, all by the same author: Travelling Solo to Vietnam, France, Morocco, Japan, Italy. I wonder how they READ.

November 17, 2006


Winter is here. One feels a nip in the air, the need for a blanket, and that lazy feeling in the mornings. Early morning sunlight suddenly streams through my kitchen doesn’t happen during other seasons. Fruit vendors sell seetaphal; the elegant tree jasmines are in full bloom, perfuming whole stretches of roads on which they stand. The Nepali sweater sellers are back, with their colourful woollens. And mirchi bajji smells at twilight seem more tempting than ever...I have been trying to get my children to take a day off from school so we could all laze and do nothing, but the idea has immediately been vetoed! Why don’t schools encourage such enterprise?!

The Indian name for this season is Hemanta-ritu—the time when it just begins to get cold and the sun begins to set earlier than before; suddenly 5.30 pm looks like 6.30 pm, and you want to go to bed early.

Here are the other Indian seasons...their names make the seasons sound so romantic; names we should have all been familiar with, but unfortunately are not.

1. Hemanta-ritu: mid-October to mid-December: Season /of deepening shadows.../slash /of/ wind/in frost-light/ a song/remembered/a scene/replayed/ it is getting cold now.

2. Shishira-ritu: mid-December to mid-February: Season/of ice and song.../snow sets on /ice /through /fog and rain/ the sometimes sun/sometimes /shines /flowers /sit pretty/it is shivering cold.

3. Vasanta-ritu: mid-February to mid-April: Season/of softening snows.../rivers rush/cold/swift/to touch the earth/warmth evaporates/and the sun/climbs/the /sky/it is the end of biting cold.

4. Greeshma-ritu: mid-April to mid-June: Season/of raging fire.../white/hot/blazing/only/sea breeze/and spectacular skies/permit relief/it is hot and hotter.

5. Varsha-ritu: mid-June to mid-August: Season/of pouring sky.../storm clouds/gather/sweep/across the land/conquest/follows/conquest/it is the monsoon.

6. Sharata-ritu: mid-August to mid-October: Season/of heavy stillness.../like a fruit plucked/too soon/like the air/charged/and/changing/it is cold and not cold/it is wet and not wet. (from the Tulika Diary of Seasons 2001)

Every one of these seasons brings with it, its own ambience, its own festivals, different in different states of India. Somehow, when the season changes, something new and different seems to happen...however subtle. There is change in the air, a new day seems to dawn bringing with it, new hope...

And let us remember that this happens in India, SIX times a year!

November 10, 2006


Apart from continued pressure at work and home, two things have been bothering me: one is disgust with the subtle but persistent discrimination one faces in everyday life, and the other is about coming face-to-face with GenerationNext, and not being able to recognize them. Both depressing sociological issues which I think I will leave for the more intellectual human beings around me to talk about and publish on.

Since I am King, Queen and Jester of my blog, I will leave this here without saying anything more, and escape to my World of Happier Things.

Like colour. I love colour. I revel in it. Here’s a quote by Oscar Wilde that reflects what I feel about colour: Mere color, unspoiled by meaning and unallied with definite form, can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.

I have uploaded some colour from my Kodak—the first photo (above) shows wish coconuts in a temple, and the second (below) is .....any guesses (if anyone is reading this!)?

November 03, 2006

Meet two friends

A publication editor's life is governed by deadlines. I am stuck in one such phase right now. No time to play around with words. But here are two friends I'd like you to meet. I took these pictures in Rishi Valley last year.

Enjoy them...after all, a picture, as they say, is worth a thousand words!

October 27, 2006

Surabhi: the India one must see...and be proud of

When I saw Phantom of the opera on Broadway in New York City in 2004, I was totally zapped. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The costumes, the stage craft, the orchestra, everything was gorgeous, larger than life. And the special effects were simply stunning! One moment the stage was solid ground, another moment it was water with a boat sailing on it; one moment a character was walking, another moment he was sitting on the chandelier on the roof! It was absolutely out of this world, and no doubt, the best theatre experience I had ever had until then. It completely redefined the concept of ‘theatre’ as it existed in my mind.

And of course, the question arose, why don’t we have something like this in India?

I got the answer to my question in February this year, when Vijay and I discovered Surabhi, a unique 121-year old traditional Telugu theatre group from Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh. The ‘theatre’ was a make-shift structure with an asbestos roof with kacha flooring with wooden benches to sit on. The play we saw was Maya Bazar, a mythological from the Mahabharata. It is the story of the romance between Arjuna’s son Abhimanyu and Balarama’s daughter Sashirekha, and how they are united against all odds by the rakshasha Ghatotkachaa (see photo) using his magic powers.

We had heard that Surabhi plays were spectacular, but we really did not know what to expect. And were we in for a surprise! In Maya Bazar, arrows fly on stage, meeting in mid-air, in a display of fireworks; one arrow causes a wall of fire, another brings down rain to put out the fire; a romantic song in a garden has real pigeons flying around; Narada actually descends from the clouds, singing. And when Ghatotkacha makes his appearance, the magic seems to begin all over again—carpets fly, laddus magically ascend into Ghatotkacha’s mouth; brooms rise up to give a beating to the baddies; a couch on which Sashirekha is lying down actually rises up and flies away!!

As more and more special effects unfolded before us, we were mesmerized...and kept exclaiming in wonder and disbelief at what was happening on stage. At the end of the play, both our children asked us if they could go to the play again! We went home and called up about 25 people, family and friends included, and invited them to the play the next weekend. The same reaction from them too... "That was out of this world...why didn’t we hear about Surabhi earlier?"

If people hadn’t heard about Surabhi, it is because this group of skilled performers have no means to get the right kind of publicity. They performed in Hyderabad, 5 days a week for six whole months, thanks to government patronage, but there was hardly any crowd despite the low priced ticket of Rs 15!

Surabhi was essentially a travelling rural theatre. Its decline began with the advent of cinema, and then TV. In its heyday, Surabhi had over 50 drama troupes, all in the same family—now it has just five. Threatened with closure every passing day, the Surabhi family struggles to make a living.

It is a typical story of simple, genuine people, with huge talent, being forgotten, while all the attention is on those pseudo-intellectuals with their ‘nothing-on-the-stage-you-have-to-imagine-it' kind of theatre, which corporate giants patronise, and for which people spend Rs 500-Rs 2000 per ticket, and clap even as they wonder why they are clapping!

Surabhi should not be allowed to die. They need patronage. If you live in India and want to help, please invite Surabhi (98485-80211 / 98490-26386) to perform in your town or city. And if you find them performing nearby, please spend Rs 15 per ticket for an awesome theatre experience.

For this is the India one must see, and be proud of.


Other interesting facts

• Surabhi was started in 1885 by Vanarasa Govindarao and Vanarasa Chinaramayya in Surabhi, a tiny hamlet near Rayachoti (another version mentions a remote Kadapa village—Sorugu), now in Kadapa district in Andhra Pradesh.

• Surabhi is unique also because it is a one-family theatre group in which every member of the family acts, including toddlers who are made to put on some make up and costumes, and walk up and down on the stage. There have apparently been cases when an older family member died on the stage, but the play went on without stopping.

• The name Surabhi comes from the Sanskrit shloka Shushstu Rabhathe Janaanandam, Ithi Surabhi, which literally means, "...because in Surabhi, people’s joy is easily obtained".

• In addition to Maya Bazar, they do other plays such as Sri Krishna Leelalu, Lava Kusa, Balanagamma, Bhakta Prahlada and Sri Veerabramhmamgari Jeevita Charita.

• The hugely successful movie Maya Bazar was inspired by Surabhi, and has the same kind of special effects that the Surabhi play has.

• At the time of writing, there has been a positive development—Surabhi has been invited by a cultural foundation to perform in Vishakapatnam, from 1 to 22 November (The Hindu, 18 October 2006).

October 20, 2006

I black...a poem

Something happened and I could not sign into my blog; tried the 'help' feature but to no avail. So I recreated it...that's why everything is dated 20 October 2006.

I have been up against deadlines. And now this blog log-in problem. Therefore no time for a proper post. I'll just say Happy Deepavali!

And share with you a poem written by an African child, sent to me by my friend Savitri. It was apparently nominated Poem of the Year (details not known) in 2005.

When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in Sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still black...

And you White fellow,
When you born, you pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in Sun, you Red,
When you cold, you blue,
When you scared, you yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray...
And you calling me colored???

Of a new friend, and an old...

I get very excited by new species of flora and fauna that are found in nature. The newspapers reported recently that a new bird species, a kind of babbler—Bugun liocichla— has been found by Ramana Athreya and his team, of the National Centre for Radio Astrophysics, Pune, in the Eaglenest Wildlife Sanctuary in Arunachal Pradesh. This is being hailed internationally as the first new bird species discovered in India in nearly half a century! Wow!

The bird has been named after the Bugun tribe in whose land it was found. Says Mr Aasheesh Pittie, Hyderabad-based birdwatcher, The discovery of a new bird is really special, but when it’s a stunning species with no geographically close relatives and in a part of the world where bird collectors have sampled birds for more than a century, it’s nothing short of a miracle.

In a world where the front page is full of mishaps, such news, tucked away on the last, is really exhilerating. There is much to crib about, but one must rejoice in small happinesses.

Remembering an old friend

Talking about a new bird species, I remember fondly, an old friend, who has sadly, found its way into the endangered species list, all over the world. The good old sparrow.

On a trip to Nagarjuna Sagar recently, apart from the abundant water in River Krishna, I enjoyed looking at the several insects and birds that frequented the vast openness of Punnami, the guest house we stayed in. The canteen overlooked Krishna, with a glass separating the inside from the outside. The quiet was unbelievable after our daily dose of Himayatnagar’s increasing decible levels.

Suddenly, a house sparrow came hopping near the glass next to our table. It pecked at grains on the floor, hopped around on the back of the chair outside. A familiar sight, one would say. But, no longer, in the part of the world I live in, and in many others. The humble house sparrow, which had been a taken-for-granted part of my childhood, has been one of the casualties of changing lifestyles. They are gone! My children don’t know what they look like. The chirping of sparrows in the background of everyday life was so natural that one hardly noticed it. It has now been replaced by a doorbell simulation (which I hate, and which I judge people by...sorry!) press the switch and it goes, cheap, chip, chip chip, chip...!!

Subject of many a pittamma-kakkamma (sparrow-crow) story, pittamma was always the good bird, and the poor old kakamma always played the villian, much like Rajesh Khanna and Prem Chopra in the movies of the seventies! But unlike in the movies, looks like our little hero has been knocked out by the villain...that spoon-stealing, chapati-filching rascal—the crow—who’s still around. More on him another time, for he’s an intelligent and interesting character, and deserves a blog posting all to himself!

For now, I’ll say adieu, little sparrow...we miss having you around.

Links: Where have all the sparrows gone? by Vasudha, V.,
Excitement for Ornithologists by K. Venkateshwarlu,
Reference: Wondrous babbler, Editorial, The Hindu 13 October 2006.

Bathkamma, Bathkamma uyyalo...

There are ever so many minor and major festivals in India. Dasara (also spelt Dussehra) is celebrated differently in different parts of India. I write about a lesser-known festival called the Bathkamma panduga, celebrated just before Dasara in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh.

This festival is a 9-day, all-women affair. Girls and women arrange flowers on a plate, stacking circular rows of different varieties of flowers available during the season, on top of which is placed some turmeric and a piece of dry coconut. This is worshipped as Bathukamma. Women stand in a circle and sing songs as they go around the colourful Bathukammas placed in the centre, clapping and dancing rhythmically. On the final day, they gather at temples next to a pond or a lake, again sing and dance, after which they put the Bathukammas in the water.

One legend is that King Daksha Prajapati, father of Sati (Lord Shiva’s first wife) performed a yagna to which he did not invite Lord Shiva. Sati felt insulted and burnt herself. During the Bathukamma festival, women pray asking her to come back to life (Bathukamma literally means 'come back to life, mother).

My own childhood memory of Bathukamma festival is of an enthusiastic grandmother getting together girls from the locality and literally ordering them to dance around as many Bathukammas as could be gathered. They sang folksy songs, which usually began with the words Bathukamma, Bathukamma uyyalo... I watched them, even as my grandmother encouraged the girls to sing ‘one more song’ and then ‘one more’, and then, "don’t you know this song?...we used to sing it when we were children", and so on.

I invariably shied away from the place if anyone asked me to participate. But I went back for the delicious prasadams distributed after the dance. What ingredients those prasadams were made of, I really don’t know (subject of discussion with grandmother on my next trip). But they would put an Almond House or a Dadu’s* to shame!

This year, with a new interest in this colourful festival, I went to Bhadrakali temple in Warangal to see the splendour of Bathukamma. Neatly dressed in silk sarees, wearing lots of jewellery, flowers in their hair, Bathukammas in their hands or on their heads, groups of women came, colour after vibrant colour. They sang with belief; prayed sincerely and naturally, unmindful that the greens and blues, the mustards and maroons they splashed around could be a piece of the culture cake I was trying to taste...

I returned to my world, my Kodak happy and full of bright hues, but with questions in my mind....I grew up on that very land, yet why is that I cannot have the kind of faith those women have? Why am I incapable of singing and dancing like them? Yet, why do I cling on...why can’t I just let go? In fact, why does it sometimes seem like I belong nowhere?

*Famous sweet shops in Hyderabad

Lorry art

It may seem funny but on my first trip to the US (a trip that materialised after many many years of planning), I was bowled over by the humongous trucks that were everywhere. They were colourful, sleek, and so well-maintained that one could sense the love with which the truck owners / drivers took care of them.

In India too, we have lorry drivers who love their vehicles so much that they personalize every inch of their lorries. You just need to look, and you will find every paint-able part of lorries painted in several bright colours with a variety of motifs, words, and messages. The words could be just a simple, ‘Please sound horn’ or a ‘Use dipper at night’. Sometimes they could be, in Hindi, Mera Bharat mahaan (My India is great), or in Telugu, Nidaname pradanamu (being slow is of importance). Very often you find names of gods and goddesses (Jai Hanuman) or those of popular films.
I saw a hilarious one that said Buri nazar wale tera mooh kala, a Hindi expression written in Telugu script, which means...‘one with evil eye--may your face turn black’!! Another such was Maa ki duaa (mother’s blessing), again Hindi in Telugu script. Another funny one that I cannot quite figure out says in Telugu, nannu choosi eduvaku raa, which means ‘don’t look at me and cry’! What in the world....?!

Apart from the words, the visuals painted on many lorries are varied and intricate. Lorry art is indeed very interesting and fascinating, and must be recognized as a genre in itself, if it hasn’t already been. Here are some pix of lorries that I took on a few road trips in South India...I am quite certain if one made a collection of lorry photos from all over India, there would be as much diversity of colour and language as there is in the different States.
For some more lorry art, click on

While on lorries and grafitti, I must mention Harriet Coles, an English friend from the 1980s, from whom I bought my first vehicle---a moped (TVS 50) for Rs 4000. During her stay in India, Harriet had been fascinated by the words written on lorries and had painted some grafitti on this, my TVS (which btw, I named Heliothis after the insect pest Harriet had been researching on) came to me with ‘King of the road’, ‘Mohammed Ali’, ‘Sholay’, etc. painted wherever there was any space available. It was cute and different, and I loved Heliothis --- grafitti and all ---after all, it was the first vehicle I bought with my own hard-earned money.

It was okay until the day I returned from shopping to my parked moped, to find a cop waiting, only to tell me to erase the grafitti that was ‘only meant for lorries’! He had already scratched out the "King of the road" painted on the number-plate. This seemed so unfair...if lorry drivers could paint grafitti, why couldn’t I? I helplessly looked at the grinning cop and said ‘okay, I will wipe them out...’But at that moment, all wanted to say to him was: buri nazar wale tera mooh kala!

Playing with nature?

Here is a touching tribute to Steve Irwin, sent to me by Giridhar.
Looking at Steve on Animal Planet, one did not associate him with dying and death. One only thought of how full of life he was, how gutsy he was to play around with wild animals and how passionate he was about nature. His untimely death is indeed tragic. We will miss him.

However, while I admired him, I must admit that Steve’s programmes made me feel very uncomfortable, as do some other wildlife documentaries on TV. Always the thought, “what right do human beings have, to invade the privacy of animals that are simply leading their lives, just as we do, in our environment?”

Germaine Greer, Australian academic, writer, broadcaster and well-known feminist, in her much-criticised criticism of Steve Irwin says: “What Irwin never seemed to understand was that animals need space. There was no habitat, no matter how fragile or finely balanced, that Irwin hesitated to barge into, trumpeting his wonder and amazement to the skies. There was not an animal he was not prepared to manhandle. Every creature he brandished at the camera was in distress. Every snake badgered by Irwin was at a huge disadvantage, with only a single possible reaction to its terrifying situation, which was to strike.”,,1865124,00.html#article_continue

Even without someone like Steve holding crocs and snakes and showing them off to the camera, scenes on wildlife channels showing lions and tigers hunting a terrified deer, or a group of hyenas feeding on a just-killed zebra, or, worse, copulating animals, or even worse, closeups of a giraffe or an elephant in labour and then, the birth of their young ones…really, what right do we have, to broadcast all this? Or to watch it sitting on a beanbag and munching popcorn? Do we think we have a right to do anything we like with them just because animals don’t have the ability to speak and write, wield a video camera, have names and a religion?

Perhaps these questions seem na├»ve in this world full of much more horrible happenings. Perhaps I am still asking these questions because I grew up listening to the likes of Pushpavilaapam (‘lament of the flowers’)--- a beautiful Telugu song written sensitively by Karunasrii, and sung with great feeling by Ghantasala. It is a song about the cruel act of plucking flowers (yes!).

The flowers cry out to human beings, telling them not to give them such pain:

"We are ignorant; you are wise;
You can think and are discrete!
Do you have a heart that turned granite hard?
Doesn't it bloom a flower or two for your Lord?
The few hours that are allotted to us,
we prosper to the immense pleasure
of our creeper-mother; and in her arms we sing
in joy celebrating our freedom absolute; and
when the destined hour approaches, we breathe our
last uncomplaining, and drop dead at ourmother's cool feet…”

(Complete lyrics and translation at, but one must listen to the song to appreciate it)

Pushpavilapam apparently made people stop plucking flowers. I remember feeling extremely sad when I heard this song, and beginning to hesitate before I unnecessarily plucked flowers.

Human beings have done enough damage to nature. Our generation should make it their mission to contribute actively to the regeneration of the ecosystem, in whatever small way they can, not further damage it by their insensitivity and indifference.

But wait! What have I been saying? What credibilty do I have, to be saying all this? It suddenly struck me that when, as a child, I collected those red velvet mites in match boxes (see 16 Sep blog), I was…playing with nature.

Just as Steve Irwin did.

So, did I contribute to the disappearance of velvet mites from this part of the world?

Did I?

Birba biddi, birba buddi, teri aankh kholo...

One childhood memory which I cherish is of playing with a little red velvet insect, which I now know is called the Red Velvet Mite. They were seen during the rainy season, in grassy areas. We called it arudra purugu (insect of the rainy season) in Telugu and birba buddi in Hindi.

My friends Sudha and Padma, and I collected these very friendly creatures in match boxes, as did a lot of other children. When we collected several birba buddis, the match box was replaced with a bigger box, typically a rectangular toffee box, in which we placed some grass because we just assumed that the velvet mites ate grass! We had hours of fun with them, allowing them to crawl over our palms and up our hands. They were timid insects and when touched, their legs would fold in and they curled up into tiny immobile balls! And when they did this, we would chant a poem, "birba buddi, birba buddi, teri aankh kholo..." (birba buddi, birba buddi, open your eyes), and then another line to the effect that it must go home immediately because its grandmother had died! Soon the birba buddi would unfold its legs and start walking, and we would think it was because of our little poem that it woke up!

We took it for granted---this active contact with nature. I do not remember when it was that we stopped seeing these insects. I hadn’t seen one for many many years until last year, when on a walk in a park near my home, I suddenly spotted one. I was overjoyed! I picked it up lovingly, and my first thought was to go to my children’s school, call them out of their classrooms and show it to them. I decided against this because I felt the teachers wouldn’t appreciate it too much. I wondered whether I should take it home…but the thought of the concrete I lived on, discouraged me. I decided to let it remain where I had found it, and searched frantically for others. I did not find any more, not even one. The rest of the rainy season, my eyes were on the ground as I walked, searching…in the grass, in bushes, in the place where I had last seen it…but, no luck.

The sight of a birba buddi after so many years gave me immense happiness, and I talked about it excitedly for the next two fact, I am still talking about it! I am happy with the knowledge that they have not become extinct in these parts, as I had thought they had.

I subsequently read up about the velvet mite and was in for some surprises. Here is what I found:

At first glance, the minute red critter dancing across the earth is stunning. A closer look under the microscope announces it to be breathtakingly beautiful.

Can this really be said of one of nature's hairy eight-legged arthropods? Absolutely, if it's a red velvet mite. Long a favorite of biologists and children, these ruby gems of the family Trombidiidae are most often sighted on the woodland floors of the world, with millions inhabiting the woods of the Chicago Wilderness region.

"Under the microscope they are beautiful!" says Liam Heneghan, an ecosystem ecologist at DePaul University. "They look like a thumbprint." Most red velvet mites are egg-shaped and less than a millimeter in length. Fine decorative hairs, some of which may serve as feelers, give the creatures their lush red velvet appearance.

Though lovely to the eye, red velvet mites are disliked by the palate: their color may warn predators to the mites' unpleasant taste. "There are stories about biologists popping them into their mouths," says George Hammond, a University of Michigan graduate student who studies velvet mites. Other than ill-advised scientists, however, he knows of no natural enemies of these arachnids: "I've put them on an anthill and no ant would touch them."

In the meantime, my search for these red beauties continues. I hope I find one on a weekend, so I can show it to my children.

Ganeshas for sale!

I took these pictures in Warangal. The Ganeshas were set up for sale on the roadside, extending about half-a-kilometre. What a riot of colour it was!

For more Ganesha photos, click on:

First words on my blog

Suddenly, self consciousness. I will pretend no one is going to read this. Just me.

I have been thinking of blogging since some time, been reading others, but hesitating...and then, what the hell...I like to write; I like to share why not? Even if no one reads it, it'll be a place where I can keep my stuff.

I have figured out that I'll post some interesting photos that I take from my Kodak EasyShare CX7430, and some incidents, some thoughts, some observations of life, some funny stuff. But everything will be straight from the heart. No thinking, no intellectualizing. No whatifs...I hope I can handle that!

And, hopefully, no rules! This is my kingdom, and I am the king, queen, jester, everything. :)

There...I made a beginning! Let me click on 'Publish Post' and see what happens...