Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Romeo , the Vedic Dog


                               Romeo , the Vedic Dog



          Last winter , one of the colony stray dogs  brought forth a litter of six pups. The mother knew  I was a dog friendly person and brought her  pups to my gate everyday. They were an interesting mix. There were specially two who were an interesting reddish  chocolate colour , whom Marta my neighbour and I  named ' Brownie' with utter lack of ingenuity. There were two who were  black and yellow  dogs common on Indian streets and there were  two  even commoner yellow dogs. One  Brownie came under the wheels of a car to our infinite sorrow. The yellow ones migrated to other streets. Then there were three.
 Brownie insisted  at 6 am  on accompanying me to the yoga class in the University. No matter how many times  I brought him back to  my house gate, giving him to the chowkidar to hold till I got away, I'd find a little brown ball scampering behind me.Not only would  he not be able to cross Mall Road  ,the big dogs of that territory growled menacingly  So I would arrive and depart from the yoga class with little Brownie clutched under my arm along with the yoga mat. He sat quietly  near my head while we went through the asanas. What the other sadhaks thought about the situation I don't know.
 His black siblings  however decided Brownie's monopoly of our gate must end. He was banished to the middle lanes. Fortunately two sisters who lived on those lanes liked dogs and fed them.
  My ears took note ,after some days, of a voice calling " Romeo! Romeo! " around lunchtime everyday. Intrigued by this Shakespeare invocation, I peered out from the garden. It was  a young girl with a bowl  of milk and bread in her hand.  " Who are you looking for ?" I asked. " Have you seen this  little black dog with yellow spots ?" she says
 That is how  one of the black pups came to be called Romeo.He is strapping at one year old now and has taken charge of  the gate efficiently.
  Since the last three days i have begun to look at him with respect and admiration. No ordinary streetdog is he. The yellow round spots above his eyes mark him out as the ' four-eyed'  vedic dog coming down to us from 3000 years ago.
If it hadn't been for Wendy Doniger's  controversial book ," The Hindus ; An Alternative History", I would never have known from what a hoary and holy lineage our streetdog Romeo has descended .
 In Chapter 6, " Sacrifice in the Brahmanas; 800 to 500 BCE", Doniger is describing the conclusion of the famous Aswamedha Yagna, horse sacrifice after conquest of territory so beloved of all Kshatriyas. Doniger is quite concerned  about relationship between humans and animals in ancient India. The horse and the cow one expected, but  the  importance  of dogs is surprising. The importance lies however not in reverence or love but in rituals to cast out evil!
 The stallion which had led the conquering  army ,is worshipped before it is sacrificed. A dog is offered to the horse as part of the rituals.
 " Early in the ceremony the stallion stood in the water. Collateral relatives of the king and queen brought to the stallion a " four-eyed dog" ( probably a reference to the two eyes plus two round marks above the eyebrows that many dogs have to this day)" writes Doniger.
 Romeo looks up at me with his four eyes ,the round yellow spots dancing,as i put before him my offering of a bowl of roti and milk with cheesy bits. In this Kali Yug, this descendant of ancient lineage, has to be content with these mundane offerings.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

My Green Amby

                              My  Green Amby

     . It was 1975. My daughter was five years old. There was general concern and curiosity among colleagues and relatives, as is typical in India, that there should be an addition to the family. People  like to keep you up on the traditional sequence of necessary events in life. 
  Bhaskar's Royal Enfield made  impressive rumbling sounds and driven by an expert provided stable drives  with Sona sandwiched between us, in royal Delhi style.Still we pondered whether  a more decorous form of transport should fill the garage, one which would accommodate the grandparents. There was no urgency, just casual comments now and then.

 Walking up to the Staffroom, Rati Bartholomew, once a teacher now a colleague, remarked " You thinking of having a baby ? Sona's what, five now ?"
I blurted , in all sincerity, " Yeah, sort of.  Wondering should we go for a car or a baby?"
 To my embarassment , Rati burst out in laughter. " Oh, Kalyani. Go for a baby. Definitely a baby ."

In the event our second Baby and first car arrived in the same week of June 1976.
  Bhaskar's colleague was about to dispose of his car , upgrading to a Fiat .We decided to buy his Ambassador .
 I entered  St Stephen's hospital to be admitted . Bhaskar's car entered the garage for overhaul and painting. Thus it was that Master Arindam Dutta, accompanied by his sister, came home from the hospital in a soft green coloured Ambassador car, Mark 2
 There was something so comfortable and friendly about this Indian version of the English 'Morris Oxford' . Three in front and at least four at the back could easily travel together.
  I had always had a hankering for a smaller version of this car , known as " Baby Austin" in the 40s and 50s in Delhi. They looked so endearingly compact and neat. There was one that I  could see moving around in Civil Lines till some years ago. Somebody's beloved "Baby' painted Red , well cared for and shining.  Here's wishing that the red one is nestled safely in someone's old Delhi garage.

  The Maruti period and the craze for it as a status symbol was just beginning ,when Sona  finished her class ten examinations. There was a long hiatus of  about three months before she needed to think about school again. I felt this vacation  would be  well utilized in learning to drive a car .
 The driving instructor arrived in his  battered Maruti 800, of which he was  very proud. Six am in the morning the lessons began. After some time I suggested that it would be a practical idea to have the lessons  in the family car. I had visions of being able to attend films and plays with my daughter, a wish rarely gratified by Bhaskar , satiated  as he was by travelling to IIT five days a week.
 The Amby ,large and sedate, was difficult for my frail daughter to manouver along Mall Road. The instructor with utter disdain  and considerable malice , pronounced  our green vahan " khotta  gaddi', that is a mule of a car.
Whether it was the car's ponderous movements or its lack of classiness that made  the instructor condemn our trusty friend , I decided to ignore his comment. It didn't help that the  single Sunday ' practice' drive under her dad's supervision, put Sona off driving altogether, Ambassador or any other car.  Even now she does not drive.

Not long after that, Bhaskar decided he deserved to drive a 'new' car at this point in his life.
 We treated ourselves to not a Maruti, waiting lists for it being so long but a Premier Padmini, ie a Fiat.
The reputation for our Amby was high  among garage owners and  drivers in  the area, tenderly kept, regularly serviced as it was. In defiance of the Driving school's opinion , there were many suitors for the Amby. We were used to enquiries  from  people wishing to possess her regarding when we were going to part from her.
 So we did part from her.
 Now we hear there are to be no more of these so dependable vehicles on Indian roads,  once almost as indispensable as the mules are to the Indian army. The Calcutta factory has stopped production.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Babbler's Tiny Tragedy

                                A Tiny Babbler  Tragedy

             I turned the corner of the park having served the local street dogs their evening snacks.
 Romeo the black one with yellow spots above his brows dogged my footsteps. Ahead a group of babblers  were in a state of very noisy agitation . Babblers are notoriously noisy birds, moving in groups of seven, known as  'satbhais' in Bengali.  During our morning teatime on the veranda, while the bulbuls, Indian robins and the sunbirds whistle sweetly from low branches, we watch the self important babblers hopping around amongst the bushes, adding unmusical sawing noises
 At least three families of babblers,behaving like our esteemed legislators during parliamentary debates, were creating a deafening amount of noise. Flying confusedly between the Hibiscus tree hanging over the lane and the Chandni plant in the Park , they were focussing on something below them on the lane. It was a fledgling , fallen from its trainee flight , flopping around on the ground  without a clue about what to do next. The babblers never appeared to me to be very clever birds but uncannily human in their foolishness. As now - numerous advice, suggestions, encouragements flew down over the baby's head. 
 This was a bad spot to be grounded being the favourite  shortcut  for the colony cars to reach the main road. Instinctively I bent down,hand outstretched to pick up the bird ,meaning to perch it on a branch near its excited community or on the park gateposts. Skittishly it fluttered away, spreading its tiny wings .  I sighed  'Silly birdling' and bent again. Romeo, curious, came from behind me to investigate.  Baby flapped off in a tantrum.
 Something swooped down, there was a breath of air, a deep brown flash almost not seen, and the movement near my feet was gone.A stunned pause amongst the babbler squabblings.
 Mrs Cheel, ancient kite resident on the street , high up on the topmost branch of  the Sisham tree,  
had observed the little drama. At the moment of human intervention, it was time for her to act . A clean snatch  and she soared up behind the branches of the tall trees in the park.
 The kite had a nest on the sisham to tend and a young one incessantly keening. 
Romeo looked puzzled and like the forever underdog he was, wagged to signify he was not to blame.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Belarani's bangla boi: 60 years collection

                   Belarani's Bangla Boi: 60 years old collection 

    They have travelled a lot ; these books.
From Narayanganj, Dacca, to  30 Park Road ,Allahabad to 7 University Road , Delhi,  yo 2/9  Roop Nagar. Finally  coming to rest in  dusty unsorted heaps on four steel shelves , up on the third floor barsati of our house in B.D. Estate, called ambitiously Bhaskar's studio /study/ workshop.
   Not all the books  can claim hoary lineage .  There are acquisitions belonging to all the  decades from the 20s.
    From Ma's bedside and the wooden shelves in her ground floor room, books have been transported here to reside amidst the hugger-mugger of colour splashes of paintings, half painted brilliant clay jars , clatter of  wood working, metal working tools on worktables. Artwork are  pinned up on boards, on walls, some floating around on sketchbook sheets under or over tables. Copious amounts of Delhi dust homogenises everything.
   Two grey steel shelves nearby are loaded with National Geographic  copies dating from the 40s to 80s, History of the Second World War in 6 volumes , People and Animals 8 volumes,  Book of Knowledge 8 volumes and various other sets  collected by  Dr Dutt ,the late owner of the house , representing the intellectual interests of a previous generation. Here in this room books cohabit in cheerful democratic huddles -a long line of Frederic Forsyth, Robin Cook thrillers, Enid Blyton's stories, collections of fairy Tales, children's books, historical fiction ,science fiction,  all jostle for space, needing a determined hand  to arrange them.
  The new Mahabharat serial on television has sparked my curiosity about ancient India, and  I have discovered a huge cavern in my knowledge of  culture. I climbed up the steep stairs of this old house, in search of  a copy of  "Otisundor Bharat' -following a dim memory of a worn out book. I think this book maybe a translation of A. L.Basham's " The Wonder that was India" ; let me begin my study with my home resources I think .
 The Bangla shelf induces despair. A whole afternoon's digging, wiping, dusting with the heat coming in from the roof  waits for me before  Ma's books will identify themselves. The lowest shelf gives evidence of  being the nursing home for generations of geckos. Lots of eggshells there.Many books being lifted shower fine yellow dust, and tiny holes to show they have been hospitable to insects.
Nothing for it. I get down to business. Start taking out piles and roughly sort in groups on the floor, according to subjects . Hm- poetry here -  among 15 titles ,'Adhunik Bangla Kobita' ,'Boishnob Podaboli' along with  "Kalidaser Meghdoot', a torn copy of "Atul Prosader Gan'. This proves very tiresome. There are soon tottering piles  on the floor. I  keep forgetting where I put a book by a writer  when I come upon another one by the same person. After years of free unorganised existense Ma's books are resisting  regimentation.
 Often have I disdained the obsession with Tagore's work amongst Bengalis ,especially in Delhi. But  I find together Ma  and I have allowed 'Kobiguru' to occupy major space allover the house. There are even 4 volumes of ' Robindro Obidhan' - encyclopaedias. An army of maroon with gold lettering hardbound volumes published by Viswabharati  in the 40s of 'Robibabu's' work, and also  of Saratchandra Chatterjee ,line up at the back of one shelf. Two fat Green volumes with gold lettering of Bonkim Chandra Chatterji's works join the cosy club of Bangla canonical literature. A set of 17 to 16 volumes in ochre with chocolate bands, of Tagore's works, bought by me on his centenary, flank the older volumes. I know downstairs there are other  thick volumes , English translations of Tagore of more recent vintage -a Harvard  publication ,with its Asian edition from Viswabharati - 'The Essential Tagore' ,also Sahitya Akademi's translation in 2 volumes. Here on the roof however, the  3 giants of Bangla literature demand that I gather first all their works scattered here .
  Ten small paperbacks ,lovingly covered in white glossy paper, have ' Bela Dutta' in Bangla  in Ma's hand, written on top corner of  inside covers. Individual books of poetry by Tagore, stories by Saratchandra and Bonkim.:  sample of a  few titles  in random order- 'Shishu', 'Kheya','Mrinalini' ,' Anandamath', 'Pollisomaj'. These are books gifted  to the bride ,on Ma's wedding , in the 1920s. No doubt these were the germ of her 'boi' collection. I could see 18 year old Belarani, sitting in  her Allahabad home while Baba was at the university, covering her assorted literary possessions carefully.
  Post Bengal Rennaisance, friends & young relatives of the groom,  enthusiastically gifted these ,as elegant ,cultured  offerings.  At Rs 2/ or 3/, they were youth  pocket friendly. Ma  was an object of interest to Baba's friends, having  completed high School at 14, an 'educated' bride. Though at wane,the tradition lasted till my wedding in late 60s, where a copy of 'Sanchayita' was added to the Tagore dominance.
  The Classical shelf  restored,  time to turn to Bangla writers of the last 50 years. All  major names are represented. Ma's collection reflects the growth of  modern Bangla fiction . Anurupa Debi ,once popular woman writer is here, though except for  Taslima Nasreen's 3 books, a late gift from me, women writers are a little scarce.Perhaps Ma  was influenced by the highbrow ' Desh' magazine, which serialised many    'blockbuster' fiction. Tarshankar Bandopadhay seems to have been most favoured, 20 titles monopolise shelf space. Next loved was Bibhutubhushan Bandopadhay, writer of 'Pather Panchali' - at least 10 titles. Sunil Gangopadhay, Shankar, Bonophul ,Avadhoot,  Bimal Mitra,Jarashondho and many  very famous writers are present with not less than 4  works  each. From vertical piles on the floor, i have to transfer them as  vertical piles on the shelves. The only gain being they are categorised now .
  There are  Collections of ' Shreshttho Golpo' ( Best stories) or 'Nirbachito Golpo' ( Selected stories'), or Hundred Best stories  by well known writers. An interesting volume is  one on translations of Best Urdu Stories. Iconic Bengali journals , 'Shonibarer Chithi', 'Bosumoti' - are present in contemporary selections.
 The books reveal what a lively intellect  Ma had, keenly  interested in various subjects.On the lowest shelf,  I try to accommodate all her non-fiction.  Cheiros Palmistry in 4 books, Freud's psychology, space, geography,  astronomy , lots of travel books( including the famous 3 volume 'Ramyani Bikkho' ), a biography of Sri Radha , a book on  Badshahi era, esoteric Tantric cults,criminology ( Aparadh Bigyan) - difficult to list here all  her wide interests. She loved biographies  ,it seems;. four volumes of Vivekananda's life, on Ma Sharada, Ramakrishna , and others. Esoteric Indian cults were another interest. I mark several books  to read . A full shelf ,in two rows and two tiers, can hardly contain all these books.
  'Stay there - till I lay hands on you again.'
  Classification, grouping of authors , cleaning of dog eared brown volumes with pages missing ( a discouraging task) , has consumed the afternoon. I descend  downstairs , with  2 volumes of  the famous ' "Tontrabhilasir Sadhusongo' (  A Scholar's Encounters with Tantriks ) under my arm.Nothing like weird stories about how bhairavis are acquired and  about mad dwellers of cremation grounds to while away hot summer afternoons. "Otisundor Bharat" has departed this no longer 'sundor' environment in the Kabariwala's bag, it appears.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Plastic muddle

This morning my Newsweek copy arrived neatly wrapped in its plastic cover.Big Apple and Reliance ,the retail markets I visit for vegs and groceries, require that I bag every item in a plastic bag, though their sign says we do not supply bags. Every little shop and hawker hands out stuff in black , cheapest plastic, which common people call 'panni'. Most unattractive are the rasagullas or other sweets which are poured into transparent plastic along with the syrup. Haplessly I carry around old pannis to bag stuff i buy, incurring funny glances. At this rate we are not going to defeat the plastic monster.
Long ago going by bus to Mahabalipuram, from faraway I gazed awestruck at a tree faraway by the sea coast, which seemed covered with most colourful flowers. More colours than you can see on a tree normally. As we passed the tree finally, the varicoloured flowers were revealed as many multi coloured plastic pieces blown up on to the tree.An unintended installation art signifying mankinds stamp on nnature!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Oz demos

One thing intrigued me about the demonstrations by the Indian students in Melbourne and Sydney. I failed to find any participation by Australian young people in the rallies.I believe this would be impossible on streets or campus scenes in UK, USA or even in Europe. Liberal ideology would bring out people to support a protest against injustice or to show sympathy.
There have been postings by Aussies to state they are not racists. Also that the attacks were more robberies than racists .If that is so, why not show your sympathy for people who are guests in your country by joining them on streets.