Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mangoes, Bananas and Dried Fish

I read from the Third Editorial in a recent issue of The Times of India about the harrowing experience of the contributor’s mother with the Customs officials at an airport in U S of A. (Third editorials are pieces, generally with a tinge of humour, contributed by readers.) The old lady was carrying a packet of the delicious Indian mangoes for her son. She was asked at the Customs desk if she was carrying any fruits or dairy products. The honest lady said that she was carrying a packet of mangoes. With this, alarm bells went off and she was asked to surrender the packet as it might ‘contain mysterious bacteria’. The lady retorted, “I have been consuming this ‘mysterious bacteria’ for years and am still alive!” This did not cut any ice with the official. So she asked him whether he had a knife. The official was bewildered (and probably alarmed too). The good lady explained that with knife she could cut one of the mangoes and he could taste the heavenly fruit. This fell flat on the law-enforcing official and she had to surrender the packet almost tearfully, thinking about her beloved son being deprived of the pleasure.

This reminded me of a not-so-similar experience of mine when the wife and I had gone to visit Daughter I living in U S A. I had carried a small packet of exotic bananas from my garden. I had lovingly grown the plant and it had borne fruits for the first time. The bunch was still green and I reckoned that the fruits would ripen a few days after our arrival there. It would be in the fitness of things that the first yield would be enjoyed by our first child. Deliberately but with a lot of trepidation, I did not declare it. My heart was pounding when I passed through the Immigration desk. To my good luck, everything went off well and I landed at Daughter’s house with the bananas. :)))))))))))))))))))) I have vowed not to repeat any such act, if only to avoid a pounding heart. :(((((((((

Why are seeds, fruits and vegetables not allowed? This takes me to the wicked Parthenium weed which came to India riding on the back of wheat-grains imported by India in the 1950s to meet a huge food shortage.

Parthenium hysterophorus is a weed that came to India along with the PL 480 US wheat seeds in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time there was a big shortage of food grains and India imported wheat under Public Loan 480 plan under Food For Peace Programme of USA. The weed grew into uncontrollable proportions invading million of hectares of uncultivated wastelands, roadsides, railway tracks, etc. One plant of Parthenium can produce around 25000 to 30,000 seeds that can propagate rapidly with wind. The fast growing weed has spread all over India and is a nuisance in public parks, residential colonies and orchards. It causes health hazards such as skin allergy, hay fever and asthma in human beings and is toxic to livestock. It squeezes grasslands and pastures, reducing the fodder supply. Scientists describe it as a poisonous, allergic and aggressive weed posing a serious threat to human beings and livestock. Its seeds became a menace in the wheat fields of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
The deadly weed came to be named ‘Congress grass’ because it was imported into the country by the then Congress government in the Centre. It is also known as ‘Carrot grass’. In Hindi it is called gajar ghas.

This mother’s story takes me down memory lane. I was working in UP. Daughter I was on the way, and the wife was craving dried fish (which I abhor). My mother came to know about it. One day, at my bank, I received a Registered Post parcel. Curious to know what my mother had sent, I opened the packet. Removal of the packing wrappers revealed a tightly sealed small tin container. My curiosity was in full hold of me. With a lot of difficulty, I opened the cover. And out came the smell of the dried fish. Before it could spread and reach my colleagues, I quickly closed the tin tightly and put it inside my drawer. However, a little of the smell had come out and one of my colleagues remarked, “Something is smelling.” I kept quiet and thankfully after a little while the smell disappeared. Mothers will be mothers!

I read somewhere that in the 17th Century one Sufi Saint Baba Budan smuggled just seven coffee beans from Mecca into the Kingdom of Mysore. He planted those seeds and that was beginning of coffee-plantation and production in India!


Why do I say ‘the wife’? A friend of mine who reads my blog posts asked me this. Years ago, when I was still working, I had contributed a humorous article to my Bank’s House Magazine. In that, I had used the term ‘the wife’. The editor in his wisdom, changed it to ‘my wife’. I can say ‘Daughter I’ and ‘Daughter II’ but …... Need I say anything more?

Tuesday, 19 June 2012


Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi organized a Festival of Contemporary Dances named ‘Samakaala’ from the 11th to the 13th May, 2012 and I had the good fortune of attending it.

Bharat Sharma’s Bhoomika Creative Dance Centre, New Delhi and Ananda Shankar Jayant’s Shankar Kalaakshetra, Chennai presented beautiful dance numbers on the first day.

Sharma’s first presentation called ‘Hans Balaka’ , based on Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, represented the winter-migration of birds from Siberia to various parts of India. His second presentation called ‘Street Boys’ showed the uninihibited spirit of youth. The third presentation called ‘Rangabali’, presenting the three colours and the chakra of the Indian National Flag, was a well-choreographed number. The dance-movements revolved around imagined characteristics of each colour and the centrality of the chakra in the flag’s formation. The Group’s last presentation was ‘Jatak Mala’ based on the evolutionary cycles of the Buddha’s previous lives.

Dr. Ananda Shankar Jayanta’s dance-presentations lead her audience on a spiritual and ethereal journey. Her presentation in the evening was ‘Dancing Tales – Panchatantra’. This five-part presentation was based on the legendary Bishnu Sharma’s epic tales Panchatantra, which through fables and allegory, talks about friendship, bravery, foolishness, leadership and freedom.

In the second evening, Madhu Nataraj and her troupe from Natya Stem Dance Kampani of Bengaluru presented ‘Vajra’, as ‘the diamond, lightening and a weapon, connecting the qualities of indestructibility, Shakti, brilliance, unbridled power and enlightenment’.

The second presentation of that evening was ‘Amritasya Putra’ by Kolkata’s Mamata Shankar, daughter of Uday and Amla Shankar. It showed ‘how we all are a spark of that divinity born of the 5 divine elements, Fire, Space, Wind, Earth and Water and how the soul moves in various forms in the cosmic world before entering the human body. The very first emotional experience we have in our life is that of Love, mother’s self-less, untainted and ever caring love. The second stage of Love is that of a friend, having no gender barriers, pure, innocent and sparkling with happiness. The third stage of Love is the awareness of love between a man and a woman, like a flower’s longing for the sun and the rain, sacred and pure. Then gradually, ignorance and delusion creep in, and moves us away from our own true self. The same love, which so far was divine, innocent and pure, changes into lust, greed, desire and ego breeding hatred, jealousy, anger and violence. At the end, we are left with pain, suffering and sorrow. It is then, out of repentance, that our inner search begins for the ultimate truth, and someday, we realize that we are all a spark of that Divinity, we are all Amritasya Putra.’ It was a brilliant performance.

The first presentation of the third evening was ‘The Child’ by Tanushree Shankar and her troupe from Kolkata. ‘The Child’ is the only the only poem of Rabindranath Tagore written originally in English. The dance number presented how ‘man’s journey from the darkness of ignorance, hopelessness and desperation of life, to the light of knowledge and understanding, is difficult, full of turmoil, doubt and treachery. It is fragile hope and faith that takes him along. Even that faith seems inadequate to the rigours of this journey. Yet, this faith carries him through to enlightenment and the newness of life represented by the child, full of innocence, simplicity and potential. Tanushree’s interpretation depicts a flowing rhythmic, spiritual journey of Man through ages, from the bondage of ignorance, ultimately to the freedom of enlightenment and self-realisation.

The last presentation of the 3-day Festival was ’White’ by Ronnie Shambik Ghosh and Mitul Sengupta. ‘Life is an odyssey, a canvas of various emotions captured in numerous fragments in time. It unfolds in phases, beginning with neutrality, and then follows up with a surge of emotions, anecdotes and imagination. We view life as WHITE – a colour epitomizing truth, purity and enigma. It is an amalgamation of all the hues in our life, which is a blend of myriad moments, united together to become one entity in one’s life time. WHITE can also be interpreted as an ocean, as do emotions and moments in life’

It was my first exposure to contemporary dance and I was looking forward to attend the Festival, particularly to the presentations of the internationally famous danseuses like Mamata and Tanushree Shankar, both trained by Amla Shankar. I love to watch classical dance forms like Bharatanatyam, Odishi, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Mohiniatam, Kathakali and Manipuri. I was looking forward to attend and did enjoy the dance numbers presented during this Festival but some intricacies and nuances of the contemporary dance forms were incomprehensible to me. In the narrative, I have mostly used the words of the booklet which was provided to the viewers at the Festival.

Of course, I do not mean to say all the dance numbers were incomprehensible; a few portions were so.

As I, an ordinary viewer, see it, in classical dance forms, the intricate nuances of the dance are brought out mostly through expressions of the face, particularly the expressive eyes which speak. This is supplemented by the movement of the hands, particularly the fingers, and the other parts of the body. Mudras (intricate hand gestures), bhabhas (facial expressions) and deft foot-work play important roles. The music provides the back ground. In modern dance forms, light, sound and other technology and props play a vital role. These complement and supplement the skill of the artist. The viewer also has to transport herself/himself to a higher level of imagination above and away from mundane life. The viewer has to be a participant to appreciate this art form.

That evening also reminded me of modern poetry and modern art.

Sometime ago, I read in a newspaper, the interview of a literary figure well-known for her modern poetry. She was asked why it was that many modern poems were difficult for the common educated people to understand. She replied by way of an example. If you are to understand Tamil, you must know Tamil language, she said.

This takes me to the reply of a painter of modern art. A friend of his, a ‘commoner’ asked him why the faces of human beings in his works of art did not look like real faces. The artist took out a photograph of a person and asked, “Should a piece of art be like this? Is this photo exactly like the person it represents? No, it is rather flat.” Perhaps the artist meant that the photo had only length and breadth and did not have the third dimension which a real person had.

Whenever I come across modern poetry, I read it and try to comprehend it but most of the time it goes over my head. I regularly visit art galleries whenever there is a painting exhibition but as far as modern art is concerned, I am an ignoramus

Thursday, 14 June 2012

The Lily Family






The fourth photo is that of the football lily and the the fifth one is the plant of the football lily. The wilting and drooping flower can be seen near the stem of the plant.The plant sprouts up from underground soon after the first rain towards the end of summer. The flower wilts after its life is over. After the rainy season, the plant disappears into the ground. The flower emerges soon after the first rain in May. Perhaps that is why it is called Bhuin Padma (literally Lotus on Land) in Odia. It is followed by the appearance of the plant and the cycle goes on.

I have another plant of the lily family. It is of deep pink colour and is of small size. It blooms during rainy season. Here it is:


There is yet another member of the lily family in my garden:

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

'Father' of the Indian Constitution

A vocal section among the Members of Parliament of India has raised objection to the inclusion of a 1949 cartoon by the legendary cartoonist Shankar featuring B R Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru, in the text book on Political Science prepared by National Council of Educational Research and Training which is being used in Secondary Schools in India since 2006.
The purpose of this piece is not to discuss the merits or demerits of this controversy but to clear a misconception about Amedkar being called the ‘Father’ of the Indian Constitution. He has been variously described as the ‘Father of the Indian Constitution’, ‘Author of the Constitution’, ‘Chief Architect’ of the Constitution etc. The fact is that none of these descriptions is correct. However, it is a fact that Ambedkar was one of the important members of Constituent Assembly of India, comprising a little less than 300 members, which framed our Constitution, taking 2 years, 11 months and 17 days.
Dr. Rajendra Prasad (who was elected the first President of India in 1952 after our Constitution came in force on the 26th January, 1950), was the Chairman of the Constituent Assembly. A galaxy of leaders including Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel, who led our Freedom Movement, were Members of the Constituent Assembly. Many of them were legal luminaries of their time. (As is well-known, Gandhiji shunned any official position.) 
The Constituent Assembly constituted a number of Committees to deal with various parts of the proposed Constitution. Two important such Committees were ‘Union Powers Committee’ headed by Nehru and “State Powers Committee’ headed by Patel. These two dealt with the powers of the Centre and those of the States respectively. Another important Committee was that which dealt with Fundamental Rights. There were several such Committees. These Committees submitted their Reports, which were thoroughly debated in the Constituent Assembly.
The Committees and the Constituent Assembly studied the Constitutions of major countries of the world. The Government of India Act, 1935, which was the basic legal frame work of governance of British India, was also considered. The basic structure of our Parliamentary System was modeled on the British system; the federal structure took cues from the American system. Suitable features of the Constitutions of other countries also were taken into account. 
The Reports of Committees were processed,compiled and collated by the Secretariat of the Constituent Assembly, headed by S N Mukherjee, who was the chief draftsman. He was assisted by an expert ‘Constitutional Advisor‘, B N Rau, a retired ICS Officer.
The ‘Committee to Srutinise the Draft Constitution’ headed by Dr. Ambedkar, gave final touches to the Draft Constitution, prepared by the Secretariat. The proposed Constitution, recommended by this Committee, was again thoroughly debated and amended where necessary, in the Constituent Assembly. After this, it was finally adopted by the Constituent Assembly on the 26th November, 1949. The Preamble to our Constitution, as originally adopted by the Constituent Assembly read as:
WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship:
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity:
and to promote among all,
FRATERNITY, assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity of the Nation,
(In 1976, during the National Emergency imposed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the Preamble was amended to include the words ’SOCIALIST SECULAR’ after the word ‘SOVEREIGN’ and the word ‘integrity’ after the word ‘unity’. I feel that these additional words have not given any additional value to the Preamble but have diluted the sanctity of the noble goal of the nation set in 1949. At that time there was a lot of controversy as to whether the Preamble, setting the objective of the Constitution in 1949 could be amended without scratching the Constitution itself. Can one say that the words added in 1976 were the objectives set by the nation in 1949? The Govt. led by Indira Gandhi had got the Constitution extensively amended in the Parliament. Some very basic features also were amended. For example the tenure of the Lok Sabha was made 6 years from 5 years. After the Congress, including Indira Gandhi personally, was miserably defeated in 1977, the successor Janata Party Govt. led by Morarji Desai restored the original provisions of the Constitution except the Preamble. The original Preamble could not be restored as amendments to the Constitution require two-thirds majority in the Parliament which the Janata Party did not have. The Congress party stubbornly refused to support amendment for restoring the Preamble to its original form although, sensing the mood of the nation, it had to support restoration of the other provisions of the Constitution.)
Coming back to giving credit for framing our Constitution, we can thus see that it was the result of the collaborative effort of all the Members of the Constituent Assembly and not of any single individual. A Constitution cannot be a book of fiction, non-fiction or epic poem, authored by a single individual. Indeed, the less original a Constitution, the better! A Constitution is an accumulative document in that each new Constitution benefits from the historical legacy of all the other Constitutions in the world adopted before it.
On preparing the draft of the Indian Constitution, it is worthwhile to recall that on the 25th November, 1949, a day before the Constitution was adopted, Dr. Ambedkar told the Constituent Assembly, “… the credit that is given to me does not really belong to me.” He unreservedly praised B N Rau and S N Mukherjee, for compiling and collating the Reports of the Committees and preparing the draft of the proposed Constitution for being considered by the Constituent Assembly.