Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Book Review: Les Miserables

Les MisérablesLes Misérables by Victor Hugo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"How wonderful it is to be loved, but how much greater to love! The heart becomes heroic through passion; it rejects everything that is not pure and arms itself with nothing that is not noble and great. An unworthy thought can no more take root in it than a nettle on a glacier. The lofty and serene spirit, immune from all base passion and emotion prevailing over the clowds and shadows of this world, the follies, lies, hatreds, vanities and miseries, dwells in the azure of the sky and feels the deep and subterranean shifts of destiny no more than the mountain peak feels the earthquake."
While reading these lines, I knew how I was going to start my review once I finished the book, and that I was going to highly recommend it to anyone who would care to listen .

Les Miserables definitely counts as one of my favourite books, and is, perhaps, one of the best works in all of literature. No wonder Ayn Rand admired Victor Hugo.
Be prepared, hence, for a really long review.
The genius and master story teller that Hugo is, the 1201 pages(rest were relegated to the appendix by the translator) made for swift reading (except for the account of the battle of Waterloo, 'a few pages of history' and French sewer system, all of which I completely skipped). The numerous twists and turns, the re-emergence of characters I considered irrelevant, at the most unexpected of places to take the story in a completely new direction made it thoroughly captivating, save a few places where perhaps Hugo fought with his editor and made it a point to see to it that whatever he had penned would find place in the final work, for instance, the 3 examples mentioned above that tried my patience in the very first few pages and which, I guiltless skipped. The eloquent prose and lofty thoughts all made good work of transporting me to a different world and inspiring in me the reverie that makes a person write poetry. Trust me, as your eyes grace the pages, all your finer sensibilities will be awakened and you will be intoxicated with idealism and beauty. As Howard Roark had said, "To the glory of man." That's what this book is about- a tale of heroism. Or, as Hugo himself put it, "This book is a drama in which the leading character is the infinite."

Jean Valjean, the protagonist and his saviour Monseigneur Bienvenu will make you want to be a better person. First on the latter. Sample this: "Do not ask the name of the person who seeks a bed for the night. He who is reluctant to give his name is the one who most needs shelter.....We must never fear robbers or murderers. They are dangers from outside, small dangers. It is ourselves we have to fear. Prejudice is the real robber and vice the real murderer." I could go on to talk about his "sublime absurdities of goodness"  and how "peaceful in his solitude, adoring, matching the tranquility of the heavens with the tranquility of his own heartbeat, ravished in the shadows by the visible and invisible splendurs of God, he opened his spirit to the thoughts coming from the unknown" and how in all of it he "did not scrutinise God but let his eyes be dazzled" but what touched me the most, in addition to his encounter with Jean Valjean, was his delicacy: "Is there not true evangelism in the delicacy which refrains frompreaching and moralizing? To avoid probing an open wound, is not that the truest sympathy?". Ok, now on one of the most poignant parts of the story- the episode where Jean Valjean, an ex-convict, finds shelter, food and more importantly, humane treatment, in the bishop's place and has his soul taken from the devil and bought for God by the bishop. "Like an owl overtaken by a sudden sunrise, he was blinded by the radiance of virtue." Yes, dear reader, I have Les Miserables open by my side and this review is going to have lots of quotes straight from the book (I'm not past 200 pages yet!).

I had forebodings of what would happen to Fantine but thought Hugo extremely cruel to have her die the way she did. Her feelings for her daughter, which Hugo describes along with his observations on the miracles that children are, are sublime. And the 'tempest in the skull' of Monsieur Madeleine and what he finally does in answer to his conscience is extremely moving. Particularly poignant was the Monsieur Madelene observing in the court room that in the earlier instance "he had been tried in the absence of God." Same for the part about Fantine's grave- "Mercifully, God knows where to look for our souls."

Part 1 took me the longest and having come to book 2 of part 2, I was gradually being aware that I had in my hands a book I was sure to fall in love with. I was impressed, but not much, by then. My opinion changed pretty soon. Jean Valejean's encounter with Cosette and their journey into happiness as a father and daughter thrown together by providence is laced with such tender prose as one can hardly help being touched. Take this one: "To stand at her bedside watching while she slept was to experience a shiver of ecstasy. He discovered a mother's agonised tenderness without knowing what it was, for nothing is deeper and sweeter than the overwhelming impulse of a heart moved suddenly to love- a saddened, aging heart made new!..Nothing is more charming than the glow of happiness amid squalor. There is a rose tinted attic in all our lives." These lines beautifully summarise what these 2 souls were to each other: " He protected her and she sustained him. Thanks to him she could go forward into life, and thanks to her he could continue virtuous. He was the child's support and she his mainstay. Sublime, unfathomable marvel of the balance of destiny!"

Javert pursuing Jean Valejean and the fantastic entry into the convent, both the first and the second time are terrific. Javert's character throughout and his death also make for terrific reading. And more interesting is the hand of providence that made sure it was the same covent old Fauchelevent had been working in, who "having the chance to perform a good deed, clutched at it with the eagerness of a dying man offered some rare vintage which he has never previously tasted." Also interesting is the character of the new grave digger: "In the morning I write love-letters and in the afternoon I dig graves. Such is life." Hugo was a genius, I repeat.

Part 3 turned out to be more enchanting than the previous 2 parts. Marius' discovery of his father, polishing of his character in poverty, and subsequently love for Cosette, all were philosophy and poetry-in-prose at their best. I could quote many but exercising the faculty of choice scares me. Some of the most touching and profoundly moving lines, lines dripping with beauty and eloquence have been lent to describe the love Marius and Cosette shared and if I start quoting, the 13,400 characters left for this review in Goodreads would be over without my having proceeded to the next part. Only this should suffice to say that the confessions of Marius and Cosette make for one of the most tender ways love is announced in literature. I'll not forget, for a long, long time to come, what all preceded this one: "And gradually they began to speak. Outpouring followed the silence which is fulfilment."

Gabroche's was another unforgettable character and the night he spent with his two younger brothers without knowing their identity, caring and protective, and fun all the same, was endearing. The revolution didn't surprisingly douse the passion I had developed for the book by then, eventually reading part 3 onwards till the last in 2 sittings flat. Marius' conversation with his grandfather after 5 years was food for thought for the psychology student in me and the separation that followed, for both, was heart rending. From then on, I daresay, a different level is reached as the build up was such that I couldn't just put the book down. Marius' recovery, his grandfather's ecstasy...the tale seemed to be moving towards a happy ending. The sight of the old man praying for the first time in his life was moving again. But the confessions of that another old man and Cosette's growing indifference put me on guard for a tragic ending. Perhaps Marius would learn of this another father's good deeds only after death had already done them apart. This thought shook me and I'm glad it didn't happen so. Jean Valjean's redemption and Marius recognising the true worth of the old man, however, were too much as the lump in my throat threatened to burst out and the tears welling up in my eyes took a life of their own and just wouldn't stop. Again, I can't possibly quote from those parts as there are simply too many. Thank God, it was a happy ending. That's all I could think of as tears streamed down my cheeks while my eyes caressed the last 4 lines:

He sleeps. Although so much he was denied,
He lived; and when his dear love left him, died.
it happened of itself in the calm way
That in the evening night-time follows day.

I don't know why...but books such as these make me fall in love with God, all the more... 

View all my reviews

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My 1st award

What started as sort of a personal diary has now been conferred a popular award in the blogosphere. Yes, my blog has been awarded the ‘Liebster Award’ by the phenomenal story teller Anupam Patra (he blogs here) one person in the blogosphere I hugely admire. I started blogging when I was still in school and for reasons that now I find laughable, I kept the html a secret. No one in my family knew that I had a blog back then, let alone friends. I didn’t advertise anywhere, needless to add.  Entering college brought in me a plethora of changes, one of which was that I opened up to the idea of advertising myself. Hence started the Indiblogger experience (here is where I came across Anupam Patra Sir’s blog) and blogging became a lot more fun. I read n number of blogs a day, commented on the posts I liked and made a number of friends. I realised I had been myopic not to have opened up myself to the spirited world of my fellow bloggers and quickly made amends by adding the most illustrious bloggers to my network and making a habit of reading their posts regularly. Over the last 1 year I found priceless bits of knowledge in the most unexpected of places, read soulful poetry and heart rending stories, laughed holding my belly with some, cried with a contended smile with others, got readers for my blog and met like minded people who are going to be featured for a long time on my ‘must read’ list. Ok, so now about the award and the man who graciously awarded it to this kid.

“Liebster is German and means sweetest, kindest, nicest, dearest, beloved, lovely, kindly, pleasant, valued, cute, endearing, and welcome. The Liebster Blog Award is given to up-coming bloggers who have less than 200 followers.”

Needless to say, I’m over the moon. Firstly, this award epitomises qualities I dearly cherish and that somebody I absoloutely admire thinks I deserve this award is extremely humbling. Anupam Patra Sir is a new entrant in blogosphere but has made rapid strides in popularity with the quality of content in his blog. His opinions on legal and social issues, his short stories and poems, all come straight from his heart and he is one person who is fantastically versatile. He deserves this award and I feel honoured to have him award me this one.
Thank you Anupam Sir J
This award comes with certain rules:

If you are tagged/nominated, you have to post 11 facts about yourself.
Then you answer the 11 questions the tagger has given you & make 11 questions for the people you are going to tag.
Tag 11 more Bloggers.
Tell the people you tagged that you did.
No tagging back.

Here we go with 11 facts about me:
1.     I love reading. Classics, poetry, psychology, philosophy, politics give me anything, I’ll fall in love with it the moment I see it.
2.     I’m a bibliophile. Most of my pocket money goes on books and the mini library I have at home is one of my biggest assets. I feel good at the mere sight of a book and my dream date would be one in a library.
3.     I love writing. It is the best way I express myself and only through writing do I manage to resolve conflicts of emotions and achieve clarity of thoughts.
4.     I’m a good communicator but not good at conversations. I love public speaking and have been a good orator since childhood but I find small talk extremely difficult.
5.     I love studying. Sounds odd? Well, blame my parents. I come from a family wherein academic achievement is the hallmark of a person’s capabilities and everything else is secondary. Did I have any other option? Love, by default, alas!
6.     I’m an introvert. I love people (otherwise I would not have opted for psychology) but can’t tolerate too many of them around me at once. I have a very high need for privacy and solitude and there is nobody that I find more companionable than a good book. I draw energy from within and don’t seek many friends. One or two special friendships are enough for me.
7.     I’m a feminist. And I’m absoloutely comfortable with the tag. I can stand everything but male chauvinism.
8.     I’m idiocentric i.e. my orientation is individualistic. For me, individual achievements and happiness hold more importance than keeping the non-entity called society happy.
9.     I experience withdrawal symptoms if I don’t have my watch on my wrist.
10. There is nobody I wait for more eagerly than the newspaper vendor in the morning.
11. I believe in God. Lord Shiva is my mainstay, my emotional support, my everything. I don’t know how I would survive if he were to ask me to stop talking to him.

Now the 11 questions Anupam Sir has put to me and their answers:
1.       'Checkered blue n white' or 'black'?
- Black
2.        Curtains or no curtains?
- Curtains
3.       Hardcover, paperback or ebooks?
- Paperback
4.       What's your ambiance while writing?
- Stillness outside, storm inside
5.        Do you plan to publish a novel?
- Not yet
6.       Do you like to make a gift for your loved one or do you rather buy?
- I like to make it myself
7.       Which is the most beautiful color according to you?
- Blue (this must be universally known I guess)
8.       What’s your mantra in life?
- Live and let live
9.       Have you ever thought of becoming a soldier in your life?
- No
10.   Do you have stage fear?
- No.
11.   ‘Mickey mouse/ Aladin/Duck Tales’ or ‘ Shin Chan/ Doraemon/ Kitretsu’?
-‘Mickey mouse/ Aladin/Duck Tales’

Here are 11 questions for those I’m going to nominate:

1.     Religion or spirituality?
2.     Do you like partying?
3.     Who is your Prime Ministerial candidate for 2014?
4.     Barcelona or Manchester United?
5.     Blogger or Wordpress?
6.     Dream holiday destination?
7.     Which genre of books/movies do you enjoy most?
8.     Do you like kids?
9.     Did you study Sanskrit in school?
10.   Is Chetan Bhagat overhyped according to you?
11.   Did you ever get lost in a new place?

As per the rules, I have nominated 11 deserving bloggers for this award who have been individually informed. Let’s spread love and sunshine around. Amen!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

No land for women

"No land for women", so went the headline in a news channel. Believing it to be a discussion on the mob molestation in Guwahati, I sat down to know the latest developments in the case. What I found was, the video clip was showing some sort of a gathering in a village(and from the caps I could make out a sizeable Muslim population) with headlines flashing 'No love marriage, cellphones for women', 'No evening walks for women', 'Women under 40 not to venture out alone' etc.
I was perplexed. Such diktats had been issued by the Taliban a number of years back. What was so new about it?
Then flashed the headline 'From UP to Guwahati, India still in dark ages'.
Slowly, a chill ran through my spine and I came to realise that the meeting being shown was not held by Taliban recruits rather the elderly of a village in UP, one of the now (in)famous khap panchayats. These regulations had been chalked out in order to supposedly prevent eve teasing of women.

So basically, instead of punishing the culprits and setting example, instead of working vociferously on instilling values in the young boys of the village, instead of figuring out ways to make the women of the village feel safer and self sufficient in self defense, what the wise elders of the village did was sort of give out the message that it is the victim who is responsible for being molested and hence women need to be kept hidden from the prying eyes of men, men who have the license of going all out to satisfy their sensual pleasures without any regard for the dignity of the other half of their species, women. To keep it simple, the prospective victims have been told to go in hiding and the prospective culprits have been given implicit encouragement.

To any rationally thinking person this must sound outrageous but reason has never been the ornament we Indians flaunt, specially when we start talking about our women. So steeped into our blood patriarchy is, that sometimes our men forget that they are humans first. A dehumanised person, no doubt, finds it very easy to frame laws that would reinforce his supremacy and keep women in 'their place'. It is not easy to argue with and convince a dehumanised person that a man is definitely different from a woman but nothing makes him superior to her for justice, equality and of course, humanity have no appeal for such people. Be it Manu or our present day Mukhias of Khap Panchayats, patriarchy is extolled as 'The Way' and the dissenters, both men and women alike, are made to pay for their rebellion. Things get worse when indirectly they are announced to be invincible, being 'traditional bodies', by none other than politicians on record. It is time we asked our politicians tough questions and did something instead of just talking about it. The least we can do is see to it that our younger brothers, our sons, our students do not get infected by male chauvinism and try to become good human beings before anything else. The next step could be to spread awareness among women on the importance of being financially independent and emotionally strong. One could start with talking to one's maid about the issue and mould her opinions if they are stereotypical. Too much is made of the virtues of being a nurturer and family person. One woman each, at the very least, could be made to understand, by each one of us privileged women, that she needs to take the responsibility of her life in her own hands. If we all worked to make a 'woman of substance' out of just one weak, emotionally and fiancially dependent woman each, we can proudly say that we have made a contribution to, as Amir Khan would say it, the health of our nation and society.

Adrienne Rich beautifully explains what responsibility to ourselves means:
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you...it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. It means being able to say, with Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre: "I have an inward treasure born with me, which can keep me alive if all the extraneous delights should be withheld or offered only at a price I cannot afford to give.
Responsibility to yourself means that you don't fall for shallow and easy solutions--predigested books and ideas...marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short...and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be "different"...The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.” 

An earnest plea to all women reading this: It is not sufficient to be empowered yourself; it is not sufficient to take responsibility of yourself; go out and empower as many women as you can, see to it that they know what responsibility to themselves means, for your fate is inextricably linked with those unfortunate women who have accepted patriarchy as God's will and are captive of sexist practices either due to lack of education and financial independence or in the name of traditions. If they are chained, you cannot be free for long.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Wedding Days- IV

The newly weds arrived amidst microphones blaring out bhajans. Conch shell or 'sankha' was blown repeatedly and all the ladies made this sound called 'hula-huli' by "placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth with repeated opening and closing of mouth." My Nani or the bride's mother and the barber's wife or 'Barikiani' led the rituals. All the rituals comprising of the ceremonial welcome are collectively called 'Gruhaprabesa'. The bride had to make 'chita' or patterns on the stairs using rice paste till the door of the pooja room in the 2nd floor where they took the blessings of the deities. She hurried through it by making the simplest of shapes which gave one of my uncles opportunity to pull the leg of the bride by saying she couldn't even draw proper chita. The fun had begun.

There was another game right after we had all had our breakfast. One by one, all the married women present had to sit with their legs spread in front of them and the bride and the bridegroom had in turn to sit on her legs together, one in front of the other. Then the bride had to throw sacred rice behind her without looking back. The constant getting up, sitting down again, of the two grown ups on the legs of the ladies made for a funny spectacle. After all were done, the newly weds touched the feet of all the elders present and got blessings and money.

Another 'Kaudikhela' was done which again ended in a draw and finally the bride and the bridegroom were allowed to go and take rest. The bride slept in the bedroom with her younger brother and the bridegroom slept in another separate room. This was to be the case till the Chaturthi or the 4th day counting the day of the marriage as first and that morning as 2nd.

The 'Bibahabedi' was worshipped in the evening and the same games were played again the next day. A new addition was that right after the 'Kaudikhela' in which again neither could open the other's fist the bride was presented with an earthen pot and was asked to guess what was inside. Obviously, there was a lid and none of us knew what exactly it had. The Barikiani kept telling her to hurry and one of the other elderly ladies, who held a stick, kept telling her to beware of whatever was inside. As a precaution, she kept the stick handy so that the bride's life was not in danger lest she should not be careful. This made one of the friends of my Mamaji, who is a tenant in the ground floor and thus was witness to this game, comment that there must be either crabs or a snake inside. We kids kept screaming that there was no need to fear and there couldn't be something so dangerous inside, but Mami was scared all the same. After a lot of deliberation and cajoling by us kids she started touching the lid and taking her hands back and in one such instance had guts enough to throw away the lid and quickly look inside. There were 'kaudis' inside.

The fun didn't end here as the same earthen pot was broken into pieces and these pieces were 'sold' by the bride's sister that is one of my Masis to the gents present. Now the pieces were imagined to be 'Sukhua' or dried fish and out went my Msi singing like a sukhua vendor "sukhua nia sukhua". My father, the eldest son-in-law of the family was the first customer, a pure vegetarian and his generosity set a good example for the other males present. Sukhua is used to prepare mouth watering delicacies and is a regular feature in the meals of east-coast Odias. The money collected was spent on a treat for the bridegroom's sisters.

Meanwhile, the bride had to just sit in her room and get bored as she was not allowed to do anything other than take part in the rituals and none of us were free to chat with her. The next day, however, her family were to visit her and her brother was to go back.

The next day, the day of reception as well as the 'Chaturthi' was the best of the wedding days. The area earmarked for the reception party was finally all done up and the cooks started on their business pretty early in the morning. The unique, subtle aroma of Odia cuisine made the cook's area irresistible and I kept visiting the place repeatedly asking what all was being cooked. Two women from a beauty parlour were called to get the bride look her best but had to eventually rush things up as too many guests arrived by noon and were impatient to see her. Still, she looked gorgeous and since she had slept well in the last two days, he grace and charm were back which were lacking during the wedding ceremonies due to being dead tired. Her family arrived in the afternoon with 'Byabahara' or gifts for all the relatives of the bridegroom's family in addition to a few things the bride would require like a separate TV, dressing table etc. I asked Nani if it didn't amount to dowry and that they should have told the bride's family not to come with all those cartons as we were prosperous enough. Nani explained that had they given anything to the bridegroom or anything to the bride on the demand of the bridegroom's family, that would have amounted to dowry. What they were giving to their daughter is what every Odia bride takes with her to her in-law's place as 'Byabahar'. I realised how limited in reach was the dowry prohibition act since the customs are such that a huge chunk of the cake is not even classified as dowry. No wonder, even with the backing of laws, women are still considered burden. Would they not be, tell me, if our traditions foster sexist practices that do not come under the ambit of the laws framed by the land to prevent such practices?

The bride and the bride groom were seated in the visitor's room in the ground floor where the bride sat smiling for the photographs and the groom often vanished to see that his friends were properly taken care of.
 The food was awesome, in particular the 'Potala Rasa', the 'Khajuri Khatta' and the 'Ghanta Tarkari'' as were the 'gup-chups', which are pretty similar to 'Pani-Poori'. Being vegetarian, I misssd out on 3 dishes one of which, 'Chilli Fish' was the star attraction being the specialty of the cooking team. Gobi Manchurian was given an Odiya twist, which I liked the most. The bride and the bridegroom had to fast so they could taste only the dessert- 'Kheeri' and ice cream. Poor souls! Couldn't taste the food of their own party! 

After all the guests had left, we all took turns to have our photographs clicked with the newlyweds which concluded with a family photograph. Three of us had to be engaged to carry all the gifts to the 1st floor and we were all thinking of ways to ask Mami to call us when she decided to open her gifts. How clever! I mean, the gifts were all Mami's but the cash envelopes went straight to my Mamaji.

All of us kids i.e. nephews and nieces of my Mamaji had made aromatic candles and lighted those all over the shelves in the bedroom which was tastefully decorated for the special night. Two people had come to work up a fairyland on the bed using 'Rajnigandha' and red roses and the room lit by only candles made for a stunning view.

Next morning my youngest Masi ceremonially made the bed and took money from her new sister-in-law for the 'service'. This was the day of opening all the 'Byabahar' cartons. Along with clothing for all there were about 15 cartons full of various sweets and snacks. There was this suitcase full of toiletries and grooming stuff for women along with saree and ear-ring for the eldest sister-in-law i.e. my Mom which was called 'Nananda Putuli' which had generated a lot of hype. Thankfully, it did live up to the expectations and Mami didn't have to bear unpleasant remarks. Which reminds me of my earlier talk about the male chauvinistic practices in Hindu weddings.
All the little little games were, no doubt, played in order to break the ice. But the good intentions might not always flower into good results as there are plenty of reasons why a bride can actually get scared of her new role. Bombarded with umpteen expectations, an Odia bride hardly gets to remain herself. I do not say Hindu bride since I will speak of only what I have observed closely but it is not far fetching to see patriarchal values steeped into most of the rituals that take place in weddings. God forbid, if the husband turns out to be a male chauvinist himself or has perverted notions of the 'duties' of a wife, arranged marriage may well spell doom for a free spirited girl. Considering that ideally brides are in the age bracket of 22-26 in Odisha, one can't help but wonder how healthy are such practices given license by our rich cultural heritage and famous scriptures.
I avoid writing about stuff that make my blood boil as my endeavors to calm my temper suffer terrible loss otherwise. hence, I rest here. But rest I will with a few quotes from Manusmriti which talk about the duties of a wife and women in general.

"Though destitute of virtue, or seeking pleasure (elsewhere), or devoid of good qualities, (yet) a husband must be constantly worshipped as a god by a faithful wife."

" By violating her duty towards her husband, a wife is disgraced in this world, (after death) she enters the womb of a jackal, and is tormented by diseases (the punishment of) her sin."

"Knowing their disposition, which the Lord of creatures laid in them at the creation, to be such, (every) man should most strenuously exert himself to guard them."
"(When creating them) Manu allotted to women (a love of their) bed, (of their) seat and (of) ornament, impure desires, wrath, dishonesty, malice, and bad conduct."
"For women no (sacramental) rite (is performed) with sacred texts, thus the law is settled; women (who are) destitute of strength and destitute of (the knowledge of) Vedic texts, (are as impure as) falsehood (itself), that is a fixed rule."
(http://www.bharatadesam.com/spiritual/manu_smriti/manu_smriti_5.php )

Sigh! Manu Sir, you make me terribly hesitate to say that I'm proud of being a Hindu.

P.S. I'm aware of a 'save Manu' campaign on the web that says the quotes of Manusmriti all over the web are but false interpretations or accurate interpretations of shlokas added later i.e. not of Manu's own creations. I have not read the original Manusmriti, but only English translations of a few chapters online and hence I know not what to make of the charges of conspiracy and only hope that this counter wave in itself is not a conspiracy to prevent Manu being denigrated. I choose to be cynical and go with the anti-Manu fraternity for I have chanced upon the supposedly women-respecting kinda shlokas of Manusmriti and have found patriarchal leanings in those as well.

Previous posts in the series- Wedding Days- I, Wedding Days- II, Wedding Days- III

Wedding Days- III

It were the main wedding rituals that made for the most fun. There was this 'Bibaha Bedi' or a dais made  of mud decorated with flowers on which sat first the bride's father and the bridegroom and subsequently the bride and her father followed by the bride and the bridegroom all with one priest from each side. What is remarkable is that the bridegroom's mother doesn't participate in the wedding ceremony. What it means is, she stays back and is not a part of the Barajatri! 

Feeling terribly sleepy, I couldn't catch up with every single ritual but had told my Mom to explain in details whenever any 'game' was being played. Yes, we have games during the wedding itself! 
First one was opening the 'hathaganthi' by the bride's sister. The bride and the bridegroom hold hands which are tied by sacred thread and the bride's sister is called upon to open it after a few mantras have been chanted. She can make any demand which the bridegroom has to fulfill or promise to fulfill soon and it is only then that the knot is released. Usually this opportunity is utilised very wisely but my Mami's sister turned out to be too good and made no material demands.  

Next thing interesting was the 'Kaudikhela'. Kaudi or white colored shining shells are given to the bride and the bridegroom one after the other. The bridegroom first holds a Kauḍi in his fist and the bride tries to break the fist and does it by two of her hands. In the next round the bride makes a tight fist with the Kauḍi inside and the bridegroom tries to open her hand with only his little finger. It was a draw as neither Mamaji nor Mami could manage to win.

There was a contest between the two fathers as well. Taking turns, one person had to distribute a fixed number of kaudis between his two hands, behind his back and make fists. The other person had to choose one fist of the two. The first one then had to disclose how many kaudis the fist held. Again it was a draw leading the bride's father to flash a child like smile and say hurrah! It was followed by a declaration by both the fathers that they will each forgive 10 mistakes of their daughter-in-law/son-in-law as applied.

At the end, the relatives of the bride presented the bride and the bridegroom with gifts on the 'Bedi' which was followed by 'Bahuna' or mourning by singing songs. The wailing bride could hardly manage to walk by herself and we had a hard time getting her inside the car that sat the bridegroom, the Markundi and the bride's brother who was to stay with her for the next 3 days. It was a  sorry spectacle and I noticed tears in my Mom's eyes which suddenly made me feel shaky and vulnerable. Not a good feeling at all.

Continue reading- Wedding Days- IV
Previous posts in the series- Wedding Days- IWedding Days- II

Wedding Days- II

The news was broken by Nani while we were in Puri for the Rathyatra that she had finally liked a girl's photograph, visited her family and liked them all and her family were coming the next day to see the groom and his family. This was pleasant news considering the number of prospective Mamis Nani had rejected. Since I had just come from Delhi, I didn't return home with my family and went to Nani's instead. I arrived an hour before the to-be-bride's uncle, brother-in-law and father visited and thence began the memorable 'wedding days'.

It was a Friday. The ‘Nirbandha’ or engagement was fixed for the Sunday and ‘Bahaghara’ or wedding for the next Sunday. The Chaturthi or day of consummation as well as reception was to be on Wednesday. The date fixed for reception was supposedly the last holy day for marriage for those in my Mamaji's zodiac in the first half of the year and thus the hurry.

Two ceremonies take place before the engagement, one at the groom's place and the other at the bride's place which both took place on Sunday. And in one such ceremony, the one in the bride's place, called 'Bohu Sweekar', my Mamaji got to see his to-be-wife for the first time. Thankfully, he liked her, as he later told me sheepishly.  It was a totally filmy arranged marriage, one without discussions between the guy and the girl, replete with sharing anecdotes and family connections among the family members. After the ‘Bara Sweekar’ at my Nani’s place, we all moved to a Shiv temple for the engagement. To my horror, I realised that the engagement didn't require the presence of the bride or the groom! Rings were exchanged, with their covers of course, by the fathers and also exchanged were 2 suitcases. We presented one for Mami and received from their side one for Mamaji that was sort of a large men's-grooming-kit. The program ended with a hearty dinner.

Relatives started streaming in from Monday. Among them were nosy ones hell bent on making me learn cooking. I learnt soon enough that it wasn't as odious a task as I had imagined it to be. As it is, my Nani was always out distributing 'gua' (a fruit that is given in addition to a wedding card to close relatives) and my Mom wasn't there to protect me. Mom arrived late on Wednesday as did all my Masis  and the preparations got much needed direction. Frantic faces, people running helter-skelter, relatives hitherto unknown surfacing with their family and relatives all made it a chaotic place and the introvert in me was initially overwhelmed by the overload of stimulation but I gradually caught up with the joviality, and for the first time in my life, didn't mind being in a 'crowd'. 

Every day there was some or the other ceremony. The first one was done before the invitation cards or ‘Nimantrana Patra’ could be sent and the entire day was spent by me folding the cards and stuffing them into envelopes. The first 3 cards were for deities and the rest were distributed among my Nanaji, Nani and Mamaji who had each their own lists. What I found amusing was in each one of the ceremonies or rituals, the local barber's wife, called 'Barikiani' had the most important role to play.

On the day before the wedding was the “mangalakrutya’ in which 7 married women led by the Barikiani started towards the temple of the “Grama Devati’ to offer her saree, vermilion, bangles etc. in which the bridegroom's Mami was to do the offerings and while returning took water from 7 homes in the way in an earthen pot which was later used to bathe the bridegroom.
Now this bathing was the ritual I enjoyed the most for all 4 sisters of my Mamaji along with some other women had lots of fun plastering turmeric paste all over his face and limbs before the bath. He repeatedly entreated them to do it one by one and not to attack him together but to no avail. The bathing was to be done without letting go of a piece of the broken earthen pot that had carried the water kept under the feet of Mamaji. And no, he was not allowed to go to bathroom rather it was the well from which water was drawn and Mamaji bathed in the full view of monkeys and birds on the various trees of the garden. After he came out, he was carried by his Mamiji(yes, seriously) to the 1st floor (no doubt a terribly difficult task) and then proceeded rituals of applying ‘Alata’ or a red liquid to the feet and kohl to the eyes etc. which made Mamaji appear like a sacrificial goat. Add to all this the prospect of going without food the whole day, till the wee hours the next morning, I did pity the bridegroom LOL.

The bridegroom's brother plays 'Markandi' and is dressed just like the Bridegroom. He stays by the side of the bridegroom till the main marriage rituals begin and is accorded special treatment by the bride's family. Since my Mamaji has no brother and all his cousins are too old to play 'Markandi' it was my brother, his nephew, who got lucky. The 'Barajatri' or Baraat started for the bride's place after an hour of rituals in the presence of the whole Barajatri at 9 O' clock sharp and amidst great pomp arrive the bride's place between 1:30 a.m. to 2. 

The groom was carried by the bride's maternal uncle (yes, from the gate to a room on the 1st floor!) amidst cheers and giggles after a short tilak ceremony. 

We kids rushed to see the sleepy bride struggling to keep awake and smile, and after a few greetings and photographs went to have the long awaited dinner. The main wedding rituals were to start in an hour. Since I don't have the permission to release my Mami's photographs on the web, I edited it and made a pencil sketch out of her photograph. 

Wedding Days-I can be read here.
Continue reading- Wedding Days- III

Wedding Days- I

I have my issues with the sexist practices that a Hindu wedding involves, but more on that later. What baffles me more is the enigma called arranged marriage. I mean how come two people come to the decision of spending the rest of their lives with each other by just looking at each others' photographs, with or without a single chance to speak to each other for barely 5 minutes with an entire battalion of relatives waiting for them to come out blushing and say yes to the proposal? More bewildering is the fact that more often than not it is not even the parents but rather some mediator who brings the proposal. Agreed that the families do look into the background of the to-be-bride or to-be-groom by asking friends and neighbours but how accurate such appraisals would be is not difficult to realise. 
What makes it worse is that the scales are heavily tilted against the woman. Firstly she needs to comply with all the expectations regarding how a newly wed woman is supposed to behave no matter what her orientation and upbringing are like. Secondly she needs to go to an entirely new place and adjust superbly with perfect strangers. Thirdly she needs to fall in love right away with her husband for the act of consummation is associated with her 'duty' and as it is the phrase 'marital rape' is still frowned upon in our society. Numerous more difficulties await a bride, enough to make her suffer from a nervous breakdown if she is not psychologically prepared. I recently attended a family wedding, rather attended all the umpteen ceremonies in between the acceptance of the proposal by the two families and the reception that an Odiya wedding entails and came across so many sexist practices as made my blood boil at times.

It was my Mamaji's wedding and thankfully it was right in the middle of my vacations. There is no place I love better than my Nani's place(save my home and my department) so helping out in the preparations became an excuse to spend a fortnight there. I had never got to take part in wedding preparations even though I have witnessed the marriages of my 4 Masis. This time, naturally, I was eager to learn, and later, to please, as I gradually discovered that part of me which could cook, do the dishes, baby-sit and go for shopping girly stuff. Every single day threw some new surprise and I couldn't but marvel at the Shravan Kumar that I found my Mamaji to be for complying to every nonsensical ritual with no complaints and a genuine smile.

Continue reading- Wedding Days- II

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

I only wish

Those days, days of innocence, days of mischief....
Pure mischief on your part, veiled on mine.
Tell me, wasn't I mischievous in pretending to be innocent?
Only the heavens knew, what all was going on,
Behind those blank expressions, those straight refusals...
It was hard on my part to accept anything, express anything.
As it is now too, me being me.
But the kind of perseverance you showed,
All these years, all these months,
never losing hope, not forcing anything either,
Is what finally bowled me over.
So much faith, so much patience,
And to top that, a queer confidence.
I always knew you were different from the crowd.
But such a degree of steadfastness,
Is what really makes me proud.
Maybe I strayed midway...yes, I did.
But I thank God that it happened.
For I came face-to-face with my truest feelings,
And now I can appreciate you much better.
We might not ever again confess our feelings to each other,
You had one day though, I still remember.
But I had pretended not to have understood.
And now circumstances are such that I can't tell you,
That I actually did....

So be it....that's what perhaps destiny is.
You have given me enough memories, 
Memories that will last me a lifetime.
I only wish, I had given you some!

Monday, July 9, 2012

An uncommon love letter

Dearest Rishabh
do you know not that you are the only anchor of my fickle emotions? What keeps you then from letting your defences down? Do you know not that you are the only ground I stand on steadily? Do you know not that you inspire me? What keeps you then from reaching out to me? 
At least don’t go so far, so easily, as to make me feel giving me up has been easy for you. Trust me; I'll never let you come too close. There will always be some distance between us. You know that I do not want you to suffer because of my principles that I see clashing with yours, don’t you? But pray, I can’t bear the distance being increased from your side. I can understand it is a terrible mess I'm putting you in but in all fairness it was you who started it all and for the terrible misfortune of falling in love with somebody as messed up as me, you must bear with it. 
I am perfectly aware that we can never be more than friends. What kills me is the realisation that we are no longer even friends. Look, the ice is for you to break. Understand this once and for all that you have impressed me enough with your keeping distance from me. Now I want you to be unabashed. Now I want you to pursue me like you used to during college. I want you to make me want to surrender with unfaltering confidence that you deserve to witness my vulnerability.

Then your task would have been done and mine will be to resist.  Yes, that's how I want things to be. 

Meanwhile, get a girl and secure your happily-ever-after with her but do not cut me off so abruptly as you seem to be doing at present. You may think you are earning my respect by doing my bidding but would you not like to add some more beautiful chapters to our love story? You may think it is a failed love story but one day you will be able to appreciate that my love for you has been like none other. I'm sure you will come to understand that if I never intended to possess you, that if I never felt jealous in sharing you with somebody else, it was not lack of passion or desire rather the pinnacle of "unlimited love that doesn't ask for possession; that asks only for itself."
You must not be afraid of yielding a little more for I'll never have you bound with me. Do not fear that you will be unable to go back after travelling with me some more. You will have the confidence that somebody keeps loving you which no one else can hope to emulate and this should give you enough fuel to go back to your folks and keep them happy. Above all, you must not be tired of my dual nature so soon for it was your perseverance that won me over once. To remind you: you need not drown yourself completely in my world, for my love for you does not depend on your love for me. Yet I always get a fresh lease of life whenever you come knocking into my world. Do keep breezing past.

Yours as ever


 What was I to make of it? Surely it was an uncommon love letter speaking of an uncommon love.
Drishti. In 7 years of my marriage to Rishabh, there were no references to this name.
"Do keep breezing past". But Rishabh never neglected me, never neglected his work. When and how, if at all, did he manage to be around this woman?  

I seriously didn't know what to make of it. Was it even authentic? Or fiction penned in teenage? The handwriting! It was not Rishabh's!!
I decided that it was God's will to let me in on this chapter of my husband's past. Strangely, the name of a rival didn't ring any alarm bells. In any case, dying women don't feel jealous. I had only a month to live. Only a month I had to bring back this woman into my husband’s life.


"We all have the switch of our life somewhere outside us. If turned off we lose the will to live. That's the ‘elixir of life'. That's the 'motive force'. For each man it is different. It could be passion for work, love of family, the desire to be rich and famous, the need to dominate, anything." Rishabh closed his eyes and a serene smile crossed his lips.

“And where exactly is the switch of your life?” This was typical Smriti- playful and fishing for compliments from her husband at the drop of a hat.

“Would you please get me a cup of tea? I’m having this terrible headache again.” And this was typical Rishabh, evading answering Smriti’s questions and changing topics at ease.

“All of a sudden?” Smriti was taken aback. But a smug smile replaced the surprised look in the blink of an eye. “As you say Mr. Philosopher. Go take a nap. I’ll bring the tea to the bedroom. I understand your aversion to praising your wife in front of your parents.” Giggling she went to the kitchen, hoping to coax her husband to tell her that she was the ‘elixir of his life’, his ‘motive force’, with a perfect cup of tea.