Jadunama – The Power of Time in Literature

First Published in IIC DIARY

India International Centre New Delhi, recently
organised an evening evening with Javed Akhtar, where the celebrated poet recited his outstanding poetry and conversed candidly with Anil Shrivatav and audience.

Shri Shyam Sharan, President India International Centre introduced the legendary poet and writer Javed Akhtar as apart from being an author and a poet, was also an outstanding lyricist, script writer who has been awarded with several awards and honors from home and beyond.

Anil Srivastav, engaged with Javed Akhtar in a candid conversation as he talked against casteism and fundamentalism. He used the metaphor of toy very appropriately and said most of us are happy with toys as a child and not when grown up.

He said lineage, heritage didn’t give any pride as the genes are not as important as the environment of poetry that made him. He recited wonderfully with great sensitivity two of his brilliant poems, waqt(Time) and Anshu(Tears) to the appreciative audience overflowing in the auditorium.

He took it as a compliment when asked by Allok Srivastav that though he calls himself an atheist still he wrote of Lord Shiva’s tandava, He went on to say that an author has to write differently in different situations that the script demands. He made an extremely significant statement that , “We have to surrender to time and norms.” And also mentioned that we are living in a bubble and everyone wants to be victorious. Instead we have to look for yesterday’s innocence, respect, honesty and surrender. He talked of the golden era of Hindi film songs with great appreciation as common people don’t attend philosophy classes but learn from good film songs.

One very significant statement the erudite poet mentioned is that Hindi and Urdu are of the same origin . Urdu is written in Persian script while Hindi is written in Devanagari and eventually the script is just Hindustani .According to him Hindi and Urdu merged together bringing the best poetry and literature though only time will tell what is good literature. With ghazals, nazm, shayari and splendid conversation a splendid evening passed in an overflowing auditorium with Jadunama or journey of Javed Ji in hands of the captive audience.

Mandira Ghosh

Jadunama is about a writer, poet, lyricist, and political activist. It is also about this one man’s struggle since childhood to become what he is today and to create a hallmark of success in everything he does. Named Jadu at birth, it was Javed sahab’s father, Jan Nisar Akhtar’s poem, ‘Lamha, lamha kisi jadoo ka fasana hoga (Every moment will be the story of a certain magic)’ that was the inspiration behind the name. When the little boy was in kindergarten, everyone realised that Jadu was not a serious name and to have a word as close to Jadu as possible, he was renamed Javed (meaning ‘eternal’), Akhtar (meaning ‘star’)—Eternal star! Not only has he remained in the limelight ever since, he continues to shine brightly like the eternal star!

Javed Akhtar (born 17 January 1945) is an Indian screenwriter, lyricist and poet. Known for his work in Hindi cinema, he has won five National Film Awards,[1] and received the Padma Shri in 1999 and the Padma Bhushan in 2007,[2] two of India’s highest civilian honours.

RAMAYANA: FRACTURED, FIXED AND FORETOLD Oglam Presentation- Janardan Ghosh’s Narration.

The Concept:

Ramayana has been told and retold over centuries but the difference lies in the way it is reiterated. Not with the perception of recounting a tale but with an intent to reinvent it to unleash the hidden secrets of this unbound narrative we attempt to retell again and again taking the artistic liberty that it affords timelessly to revisit it with an innovative perspective. The project is an enterprise to endorse the epic as a narrative that is much ahead of its times in its intrinsic potential to dislodge our linear interpretations of this colossal tale as a religious account of Hinduism. The endeavour is to re-evaluate the learn by rote method through which we have perpetually studied this epic; any change in the script is a larger than life or a utopian idea. In a country like India where the myth goes beyond the circumference of the story and becomes a ‘sacred tale,’ to conceive certain alterations in the script is a indeed a formidable venture. Yet, this redoubtable interpretation on our part has been an outcome of our humble initiative of making the narrative appear different and hence more thought- provoking as it raises questions on the fundamental aspects of human existence without tampering with the organic theme in a unique way. The Ramayana is fractured, fixed and foretold for an audience of today that’s intelligent enough to accept variations in established Literature if it offers food for thought. This differently abled understanding of the epic cognitively sheds light on the of presence of the elements that demystifies the glory of this mythological narrative making it a poignant tale of a King’s sacrifice, struggle and his confrontation with the ultimate evil that is insurmountably challenging. Accompanying him is the divine feminine- the motherly prakriti, his consort whose worthiness being questioned every moment despite her inevitability in life is a tragic disclosure. When Nature is so serene and comforting, why do we exploit her? Is the question that resounds in every chant of the story teller who happens to have taken the onus of narrating the epic his own way without letting the cliche notions of propriety affect him. It is the kathavachna tradition that comes to the fore in the process wherein the kathavachak tries his level best to arrest the attention of the spectators who have gathered around him to witness his ability of telling a tale fascinatingly.

The alterations made in the tale are the result of an adaptation of the epic on which it is based. Nonetheless, the fact remains that these changes are made to inspire a generation of listeners to re-read the epic with an open mind without being influenced by the halo of divinity that revolves around it. This performance is towards giving Ramayana a form and shape that traverses the boundaries of conventions, religions and even Nations becomes a tale of global reality that surrounds human existence today. Our utilitarian approach towards nature, her exploutation under the garb of progress and development are universally undeniable truths that prevail in this tale of a magnanimous King who readily sacrificed everything in his life. His tales of heroism that prevail in our memory must not be confined to the deeds of valour but beneath there lies a purpose – to make the realization that the victory of good over evil comes with a price to pay. Divine Prakriti is insulted, hurt when the divine masculine shows his worthiness ascertains his valour and she ultimately chooses a silent retreat into the oblivion. Ramayana is indeed fractured at this juncture but the fact remains that it has to be fixed and again told for the generations to come and the Kathakar takes up this responsibility. Everything we see is an illusion, it is just a dramatization of a popular tale but it aims at restructuring and reframing our often erroneous understanding of the tale as synonym of dictation of certain principles. It is therefore that often every time the tale adopts a new form and incidents do not coincide with the actual epic. Shoorpanakha becomes Mareecha and Sita Swayamvar takes place after the exile of Rama and Laxmana in the forest; only to make us comprehend that the kathakaar’s choice to tell a tale remains uninterfered which opens up newer possibilities of engendering a CREATIVE PIECE- retold with a purpose: to enlighten. This is Ramayana – Fractured, fixed and foretold.

The Performative aspect:

The finer aspects of the kathakar’s( Janardan Ghosh’s) stage presence are intrinsically interwoven in the tale so inseparably that his gait, the gestures, the postures the expressions all depict a conceptual assertion of the Ramayana. The fluidity of the narration is indelible and the intonation is deliberately controlled to suit the parameters of excellent dialogue delivery which ought to have a thunderous proclamation of the epic coupled with a subtle yet effective volume that’s verbose and yet aptly restrained. There is a performative glory inseparably blended with the musical beats of a folk rendition that invites the onlookers to participate in the performance. The Kathakar’s splendid stage presence with his enormous voice modulations make the characters live in stage; needless to say- male or female. There’s a quaint androgyny that Janardan Ghosh establishes on stage with his one man army – himself who appears as a reservoir of actors essaying different roles evocative of the Bahurupi artists that are used to playing diverse roles and yet one at a time. Slow and steady wins the race is the strategem that the Kathakaar deliberately adopts when he narrates simultaneously playing varied roles- Rama, Sita, Shurpanakha and above all the colossal Ravana. The entry of Ghosh defines folk narration that’s charming endearing and at the same time prudent in its discretion of becoming stern when the narration becomes the somber from the recreational. It is a folk teller whose telling of the tale exploiting all the assets of performative aspect become more than conspicuous. He cries and groans and shouts and screams and laughs and proclaims and sits and stands and jumps and circumambulates the stage as if capturing it from all its directions. Yet he releases the stage equally well and comes back to himself as he knows the tale will speak for itself. The brilliance of a learned actor becomes visible in Ghosh’s choice to be Indian in his compassionate and anxious mannerisms of flourishing a folk tale of his nation and yet intellugebtly global in his approach towards narrating it objectively putting up a universal concern: Eco feminism. A subject matter of relevance for all across ages, Sita… a woman of education he so confidently he says and ends it so poignantly saying and in the end she immersed herself in the earth. And we automatically question ” Why? Why do we hurt her – the one who nurtures us so fondly? The divine feminine. Ghosh brings the ties together: Of Sita’s separation from Rana and of her being deserted in the end: Both are aligned. Whether she got accidently separated from him when Ravana abducted her or when he sent her away, in both cases, she is the sufferer. The performative narration impresses upon re-reading the epic independent of the notions of divinity attached to it.

Dr. Payal Trivedi

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Janardan Ghosh’s Kayantar – Towards the need for Transformation

Dr. Janardan Ghosh - Indic Today

KAYANTAR- A film co-directed by Rajdeep Paul & Sarmistha Maity

The lead actor in the film, Dr Janardan Ghosh, is really versatile and multi talented. He is a performing artist, academic, theatre director, film actor, playwright, performance coach and storyteller (Katha ‘Koli, a new art of storytelling) whose practice includes the use of traditional theories, contemporary performance vocabulary, and interactive media. His research-based work engages the indigenous practice methods in urban spaces exploring the perspectives of historicity, spiritual consciousness, intertextual dialogue, and body-space dynamics of myths, tales and gossips.

Kayantar- is a poignant tale of religious discrimination that leads to repenting circumstances for those that are forced to quietly endure and hence implicitly exploited to endorse conformity to the extent of losing their identities and eventually their lives. Moreover, it is a tale that has a sub-plot dealing with the pathos of the Bahurupi artists who beg in front of the people for their survival; their art not being recognized as a respectable profession but being condemned as a demeaning activity, pursued by those that are financially underprivileged and become nomadic thus imploring in front of the people for alms in order to make both ends meet.

The film is heart-wrenching as we see how the Bahurupi Muslim artist (played by Dr. Janardan Ghosh) dressed as the Hindu Goddess Kali appears in front of his two children; only to consecutively become crippled and hence forcefully passing on his legacy to his son who dislikes pursuing his father’s profession. The son has a point. He being a Muslim roaming around in the apparel of a Hindu Goddess is disparaged by the religious stalwarts of his community, is mocked at by the children of the village and is boycotted by many conservatives as ‘Bhikhari’ – a pauper. These facts reiterated in an overtly painful and innately stark undertone are enough evidences to make the pangs of the young man believable and evocative of the viewers’ empathy for him.

That the innocent youth who has not acquired this profession by his own choice and it has been rather forced on him comes as a harsh and undeniable truth that grills our thinking capacities to the extent of questioning all our modern theories of global indivisibilities of culture and religion. When the young lad takes an anomalous decision to choose a girl of the rival community and loses his life because of being engulfed in the holocaust of communal riots that take place in his village, our conscience gets stirred and we as viewers of the film are compelled to revise our notions of living in an industrialized, progressive world. We are made to rethink whether the circumferences of culture, creed, race and religion only exist on national borders or are they still prevalent somewhere within our psyches and we are only ignoring these under the pretext of being the civilized community.

Within the framework of a story that so effectively becomes pertinent with the theme of universal relevance as we still find the world divided into castes and communities and people identifying themselves through their religions, there is a very intriguing story of Asia, the young girl who wishes to adorn herself as Kali and pursue her Bahurupi father’s profession with confidence and dignity. The tale comes as an pleasant surprise when Asia is founded engaging herself in painting her body coal black and rejoicing to see herself in the gruesome look. It seems a woman’s reclusive identification of the other dimension of the divine feminine that exists within her apparent demure image of a meek girl.

That Kali chooses Asia’s body to be her abode is also a fact that demands our prudent understanding of the fact that religious differences prevail only on the superficial level as the Bahurupi keeps singing “Apanar Apni fana hole shei bhed jana jai”- Means that realization comes only when the distinction between mine and yours gets erased. Such an indubitable truth of the oneness of divinity is fondly repeated as a backdrop of the entire film makes the theme of the movie apparent- It is not by dividing but it is by uniting that humanity can realize in the oneness of this universe wherein every entity is the fragment of that supreme energy that we call God. The philosophical context in the film does not let the film lose its ties with an integral theme of gender discrimination.

Asia takes the permission of her father to dress up as Kali and pursue her profession as a Bahurupi. Nonetheless, the Bahurupi, her father, gets annoyed with her and says that he cannot allow his daughter to wander on the roads as a prostitute. Why the man who has earned a living with the same profession disallows his daughter to follow his footsteps? The film gives us a jolt when we hear these words of the Bahurupi. If it were such a demeaning profession, why on earth did he adopt it? Was he also forced by his family to adopt it and with great reluctance he went on from door to door dressed up as Kali and asked for money from the people? The film does not answer these questions but raising these queries in our minds the film acts as a thunderbolt when we see a Muslim girl adopting her father’s profession ultimately when her brother dies in the communal riots and she has to earn a living for her home ultimately as her father is crippled and is unable to do anything to make a living. Though she finally opts to become Kali, the intimidating figure of the bloodthirsty goddess who is so venomous becomes the most pensive image of pathos; she has to become Kali only to support her family and this time her father is helpless and cannot stop her even if he wants to. She walks on the railway track fearlessly continuing her journey on the route that has her brother’s remnants that remind us of the gruesome ending that the young boy faced due to his unfortunate choice.

Diluting the conformist image of Kali as a fearsome goddess, Kayantar presents another facet of hers as a sad feminine figure who wanders helplessly for recognition. When she walks on the road men do not fear her ghastly appearance. They in fact dare to tease her which undermines her ferocity only to expose the truth that a woman’s frightening exterior cannot dismantle the atrocities meted out to her in a man’s world. She may be regarded as an epitome of Kali and the goddess may have chosen her to manifest her form but the fact remains that she is an ordinary woman confined within domestic sphere that does not allow her to operate according to her will and discretion. Her life is what a man wants it to be. She may dress up as Kali but she will never be regarded equal to the formidable goddess of the temples and the cemeteries. She will remain as an ordinary woman. When the Bahurupi tries to disclose the truth in front of her thus refusing her to wander on the roads as Kali, it is this harsh reality that he tries to explain to her which remains unadulterated truth pertinent to all times.

That a woman is exploited under the pretext of granting her equal rights and overt sexual violence and tacit manipulation are indeed a part of this so called man’s world even today are not hidden realities but are undeniable truths. Kayantar shows that if Kali wanders as an ordinary powerless woman Asia, she will be shamed. The film aptly demystifies the wrathful image of Kali and extracts the ordinary femininity in her that seeks recognition till date.

When the goddess Kali accidently stepped on Kala- Lord Shiva as per the mythical account, she was unhappy and wailed for the fact that she had made a grave mistake of putting her feet on her husband’s chest; a sinful conduct for a woman as per the conventional theories of Hinduism. It is not Kali’s pathos that is underpinned in the temples when we worship her as the mother goddess. It is her ire that is being continually recognized and the red tongue that lolled accidently out of her mouth due to her unconscious act of putting her feet on Shiva’s chest is ironically regarded as a mark of her fearful image. Kayantar shows the other aspect of this horrific Kali and that is – Kali as the one that resides in the domicile of an artist who earns his morsel of food by emoting her from door to door. When the Kayantar takes place and the Bahurupi allows her to possess him, the possession is just on the level of the exterior. There is no internal possession because the artist cannot afford it. He is supposed to be submissive and not exert his redoubtable image in front of others. He is a beggar.

The film talks about the pathos of the village artists that pursue their profession only as a means of earning the basic necessities in life. With the advent of complex technologies in the realm of entertainment, these artists are deprived of their due recognition. Kayantar – the transformation is of the body and not the soul but this is what the film seems to have intended. The ardour of transforming one’s soul is explained through the restraint that the Bahurupi imposes on himself and his son who both dress up as Kali only because they have to earn money to win their bread and butter. There is no philosophical enlightenment in the process of transforming themselves. It stays at the superficial level even after the Bahurupi keeps singing the song ‘Apnar Apni fana hole shei bhed jana jai- which talks about the need to escalate beyond the boundaries of time and space to realize divinity.

The song remains merely a song and the spiritual message ingrained in it is only a matter of speculation. In the end, the Muslim girl Asia adopting Kali’s image does undermine religious discrimination but it does not become prominent because; the extremely painful state of a girl who takes up a vocation on account of a drastic change that occurs in her life of losing her own brother is a telling tale that completely dilutes the fury in the image she adopts and brings out the agony of an ordinary woman incarcerated in the prison of conformity that she is unable to challenge or disown.

All in all, Kayantar is a film that stimulates us to understand religion beyond the confines of the right and the wrong and urges us to revise our cliché associations of Gods and Goddesses as intimidating figures of the temples who possess their disciples that invoke them in the temple rituals. It certainly is an eye-opener to the fact that the transformation of our soul is needed but is often occluded by our senses governed by selfish motives that thwart the spiritual awakening which engenders the realization of truth.

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Torii Gateway and Enclosure – Dark Secrets /Archana Hebbar Colquhoun

The murder of Naina Sahni – shot dead by her husband and her body stuffed in a tandoor oven to be burnt to cinder at an upmarket restaurant in New Delhi coincided with my exhibition of Torii sculptures and paintings at the LTG gallery in June 1995.

The principal installation of a Torii gateway in this exhibition was made using wooden planks that were coated with a clay and straw mixture. The Torii structure was erected with supports of low brickwork walls arranged in the form of a courtyard of a traditional Indian home. The brick structure contained within its walls mini gateways made of two bricks placed upright with one horizontal brick placed across at the top, to create little entryways.

At the start of designing the installation, I had originally planned to place in the courtyard space a collection of moulded objects that acted as signifiers or markers of early human history.

This idea of attempting to depict the history of civilization suddenly gave way when I heard of a horrific “Breaking News” item of the Tandoor Murder case just as I was working on the installation.

After I heard the news, my work changed – the structure remained more or less the same as initially planned – but the contents that were to be placed in the courtyard were replaced by objects such as charred remains of coconut shells, other burnt articles, and a full head of a woman’s hair as if yanked in one stroke and flung at the foot of the Torii gateway.

The uploaded image shown below is a doctored one with two images of the same work almost mirroring each other. When the main Torii work was created in the gallery as an installation I had titled it “Boundaries of Experience.” Broadly speaking, the title still holds even after the intrusion – into my work in progress – of an unrelated subject that of a gruesome murder that took place at a walking distance from the gallery.

An important lesson I learnt from doing this show was that when an idea starts to take the shape as an art object a dynamic, external entity may completely hijack your carefully planned art work.


The original title of the work was “Boundaries of Experiences”

Surrealism as the means of escape in Girish Karnad’s Hayavadana and Naga-Mandala

It is very easy to remain in the pragmatic world of apparent realities. Seeing is believing but if this were the ultimate truth, people would never have felt the need to escape the bondage of the so called empirical reality and plunge into a land of possibilities which does not comply with the parameters of tangible realism and yet has immense possibilities of excavating the depths of inner human psyche within which lies the unadulterated truth of their lives. What is the reason for the real world often becoming fake when it comes to projecting human conscience? It is because reality occludes people from presenting themselves as they are with their personal beliefs founded on unconventional notions that more often than not disregard the fundamental principles of propriety or righteous behaviour assigned to them. Girish Karnad’s plays Hayavadana and Naga-Mandala explore deep recesses of human conscience that often remained unexplored by practical human efforts.

In Hayavadana, Padmini’s secret desire is that she wants a man with a sound brain and a good physique instead of a weakly built Devadatta, her husband. In Naga-Mandala, Rani’s secret desire is that she desires a loving man in her life instead of the tyrant husband she has in reality. Both these heroines are essentially tabooed by the society from expressing their wants openly and they are intelligent enough to comprehend the fact that crossing the boundaries of morality for them both would typify them as adulteresses. It is therefore that another world altogether different from the real one is recreated by both these women in which their desires are met, rather subtly but conspicuously. Moreover, despite the fact that they manage to fulfil their wants, they aren’t stereotyped as illicit or wrong in their conduct. This is the speciality of their created worlds that are far removed from the realistic life.

Padmini’s world includes Kali, the goddess who wakes up suddenly from her sleep and grants her the incredible boon of a man with brain and brawn. This is actually impossible in reality. Nonetheless, when we read the play or watch it, we accept this improbability whole heartedly as we are somewhere aware that the deliberate use of surrealistic setting acts as an apt device to counter our expectations of a ‘good Indian woman’ who is known for her strong ethical values. When Kali makes an impossible phenomenon a reality with her trick Padmini does not have two men but has only one man with two distinct qualities of two men. This apparently magical reality is accepted readily by the us because we are indoctrinated so strongly to accept anomaly in imagination but not in our reality. It is therefore that educated readers and audiences of the play do not dismiss the story as absurd or unreal because there is no need for providing any official approval to the heroine for her conduct of desiring intelligent Devadattta and the able bodied Kapila as she has them both in one man because of a divine intervention. We are practically saved, I would say, from the onus of giving our opinions on the legitimacy of the choice. Similarly, when Rani makes love to a serpent disguised as her own husband in Naga-Mandala, we are absolutely free from being judgmental about her in any sense of the word. Rani is shown as an innocent village girl who hardly has the calibre to deduce the reality of the man who appears to her every night in the guise of her husband. It is so comfortable for the proponents of morality to convince themselves that Rani is to be acquitted from the blame of fornication. Thus, surreal acts as the device of escaping reality that is stringent and demands an absolute insistence on ethical conduct. While we know that Rani has a tyrant husband who does not love her and the serpent has brought a lot of love to her, we cannot apparently approve this extra-marital relationship of her. Nevertheless, it becomes a lot easier to bypass the illicit element in the relation of the two if we accept the imaginary folk tale of the serpent lover as true.

The point here is, not only does surreal drama acquits the protagonists from the blame of disloyalty; it relaxes the recipients from the cumbersome task of giving an honest verdict for the two. As soon as the readers/audiences are released from this requirement, there germinates a whole range of viewpoints in relation to both these characters that are far removed from the idea of stringent categorization of good or bad. This is what the playwright Girish Karnad intends to execute in both these plays. He seems to provide us the luxury of freely interpreting Padmini and Rani as victims of patriarchy or shrewd creators of their own desired reality. Ultimately, this dual interpretation dismantles conventional bigotry in a very intelligent way without dismissing the ethical notions value education we study in our lives. Karnad does not undermine ethics and morals; he dislodges the fetish for these that often we have in our lives. In addition to this, he gives those the emancipation to liberate themselves from these notions completely who feel that they do not require them at all and their life is a personal matter in all its entirety. Thus, both these characters expose our expectations for an orderly social living as well as our keen desire to break the set concepts of ‘morally correct’. There is a Padmini and a Rani in all our lives who don’t want to comply with the rules but our reluctance to accept them in public is also a matter of perception in these plays. If we secretly support extra marital alliance, why don’t we have the courage to voice our feelings out in the open? Why do we have to have double standards in our lives promulgating loyalty in marriage on the one hand and carrying on a tacit affair on the other? Our perspectives of modernity are also challenged in the plays through the use of the surreal. We want the surreal as a means to escape reality of our misbalanced living that is both conventional and anomalous at the same time. Only surreal can divulge these inner secrets and can be digested by the people today who superficially cling either to their culture or to unconventional ways of living. If Padmini and Rani were vocal enough to claim their likings, am sure people would have then(when these plays were published) and even today would have comfortably judged them as wrong. At the same time, it would have been done by the same people whose notions of ethics and propriety and very vague and far from being culturally sound. Unlike these people, those that cling to ethics strongly would have completely dismissed both these characters as inappropriate in their desires. Surreal prevents both these extremes and gives us thankfully some space to think and decide which school of thought would we like to belong to – the ethical or the modern and how.

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Memories of the Recitative Past

Mind over Misery

All of us are born with memories that we wish to forget and discard like faded photographs having hazy blurry images or the thrown pennings of blue inland letters and creamy pages fading with endearing attachments. We would rather regurgitate the past than carry it within us. Are we in the real sense of failing to remember or do we wish not to hear the words of the recitative past and not get the truthful recollection of the echoing sights? To be called only as a witness is easier than to bear and pour out the visions we wish not to see. The ability to see things as they are, are so difficult to break, that to escape into the light hearted day seems much easier and much more uncomplicated.

No one wants to resound pain, express trauma or grieve for a loss. The identity of the self to happily live only within the confines of the day, going from hour to hour and knocking down the doors of the minutes that dissolves then into seconds, is true serenity and peace. However, many times we need to challenge the tranquillity we have falsely created and listen to the polyphonous sounds of the dead and buried. The graves of the bygone as much as you bury, as much as you decide the deepest depth the coffin should lay, needs the embalming, only and only to cleanse your soul.

To gain the convincing reincarnation of this lost spirit, is only possible if we allow ourselves to cry, lament and mourn for the forgotten memories. Just by dismissing the bygone and not evoking the emotions of sorrow, by not shedding the salty reservoir, we are creating only adulterated personifications of what we term as today. Its reason is enough to moisten the sodden earth of the buried past, so that the watering down can reach the submerged coffins. One has to sometimes open to see the enclosed skeletons and beat one’s breast to lament for the faded photographs or tethered inland letters or torn creamy papers that are screaming to be heard.

So, hear the cries within, grieve for the past, sob along with the beats of your heart and let your tears become the pulse. It will only allow the recitative past to become beautiful, melodious verses of songs of your life you will want to hear again and again.

The Exodus Needs a Companion / Gouri Nilakantan

A home is without any doubt a safe space, an extant that has the infinite capacities to being ourselves; where our clothes need not be washed or ironed and made to be presentable all the time; our unkempt unshaven looks draws no contempt from the gazing mirrors; cutlery can be limited to eating straight out of the pizza box  with greasy tissues thrown carelessly all over the floor; and leisure is our pass time and idyllic conversations the only competing games. The debate arises then, if  we choose to keep this space out of bounds for others, however familial or close.  It is the truth that only when we get this free entitlement to closing these doors of our room, shutting  out those as being totally  non transgerressable, barring these latitudes out of anyone’s reach, do we get a veracious sense of belonging.  The arguments arise loud and the cacophony grows louder  only when we keep these augmented heavens exclusive  for our winged flights, leaving others alone and far behind in what they see as their black earth.

Adoring such realities, one, is discerned to be “ unconventional” or can I say “ odd” to the normal public eye.  However, if we all sieve through the thoughts running in our minds, we  come to this realization, that all of us wish for an exclusive home, that only belongs to us and only to us.  This hearth does not see the privilege only of the “single status” fancy holding few, but to all, men, women or children.  All, I see as wanting to  create an expanse of an unparalleled area that echoes our only headrooms.  We  then come to conclude that we are faithfully heard.  Our tete-a tete might be  limited to the capacity of recording random intramural thoughts, however, inner, however wordless, or however out of tune for others,  it forever plays as a  beautiful melody for our ears.

We, unfortunately, are created as social byproducts and often have to assume suggestive capacity giving roles, inundated with responsibility and risk.  The risk that we can carve out then, for our own employment seems much easier and much more responsible. If created exclusively  for us,  they are results of accurate victories as  being free of failure in the eyes of others. As the endeavours seeked  are for our own purview; and we are un-mockingly forgiving towards ourselves, we sense a literal liberty.  Thus  being unrestrained from scorn, and disdain, we seek everlasting joy in solitude, and  despite being born into a home,  I see the human mind seeking and wandering eternally in the search of this unerring habitat. If our birth homes can define and allow such unconfined liberties, uncontested un-contemptuous ways,  will only then, this never ending sojourns of seeking of ours to belong, cease and stop to identify the true borders of a hinterland.  Let’s become companions to the exodus of the few and return thus to our realistic homes.

The Prosaic Names the Profound

The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward like everybody else. Umberto Eco

 While we envision ourselves as heroes, we wish not to be called cowards.  We are living constantly in fantasies where we can rescue our own fears, our steps on our trepidations to us are totally daring.  While we wish, therefore, to be proudly displayed as shiny, victorious, golden, medals, however, they are nothing but self-created fallacies.  Are we really glories of validations or are we just self “constructed monomyths”?  We are only “heroes by mistake”.  While we have carefully constructed these high titled “notions” of being brave hearted warriors, these, unfortunately, are lying on the grounds of fiction; many times, they are only much “larger visions” of our invented individualistic personas. 

I do not wish here to destroy the embarking of the soul, in the tireless pursuit of life, or undermine human effort, but by creating ourselves as champions we are only becoming Don Quixote, wishing to somehow windmill away the troubled clouds soaring above us.  It sounds cynically true, but many times, we run behind the falsities of the moments but save our energy in doing mundane tasks and giving validity to the common.  I see the monotony having power, the vitality and momentum, that we fail to recognise, lies many times in the never ending, repetitive tasks of life.  This gives us only the much-needed vivacity to be a champion, a true victorious one.

Vibrancy comes not from creating something new and novel all the time, but in the unchanging ways we have adapted ourselves into.   The ordinary is the one that creates the true promise of the monomyth. We can find that much needed mentor in our everyday practices, who will help us thus discover the elixir of life and make us reach victory.  The observation of these humdrums will deliver the individual from the “cowardice of performing the ordinary” into the awakening of the hero. The paladin should be recognised in repetitive ticking; the recognition of the monomyth accordingly awakens the apostle, because of performing these monotonous instances.  

The honesty in recognising ourselves as cowards, to release the conventional within us to flow freely, creates an instant of true heroism to emerge.  This approach to “the innermost cave” as Christopher Vogler rightly determines, helps us to cross over to the thresholds of the uneventful one to being the victorious one.   While we all seek victory upon our daily returns and celebrate, much like the monomythical heroes that we have heard in the tales of our toothless and wrinkled grandmother; we are, therefore, trained not to give the due respect needed rightfully to the insignificant.  The honour we bestow on sometimes the dry, dull, and commonplace will turn the tables around and noteworthy ones will emerge. So, permit the unvarying and unvaried to herald the significant, entitle the dull to be bright, and… the prosaic will name the profound.                      

Chronicle of my Curious Corona Case / Susmita Mukherjee

Susmita Mukherjee in her Farm in Orchha

It all started with what in Mumbai’s parlance is known as ‘ Pateli’. Let me elaborate, Pateli‘ and it’s stronger aspect ,also known as ‘ Vatt Pateli’, loosely translates itself as arrogance or false bravado. You see I have been living in my idyllic farmhouse in Orchha, Madhya Pradesh, with my family since March 2020 lockdown, along with our cows, dogs, cat and even peacocks so how did I get the dreaded Covid?   I did Pateli.  To be honest I have tried to be disciplined most of my adult life ( ever since I gave up being a 4 packs of cigarettes a day smoker back then in 1989) and had turned into a unrecognisable creature who gave up smoking, meditated, did yoga, pranayam, ate clean food and basked in the adoration of  friends and family who  made me feel pretty invincible. In fact I hadn’t taken a single pill for the last 3 decades, and combated the rare fever with coconut water and fruits.

So I swung around with full pateli,with the belief that Corona or whatever the world was talking about with such fear, could never reach me. It helped that we don’t have a TV as ours is a microclimatic  zone, and so I kept myself occupied with reading novels, and occasionally watching ” goody goody” stuff on my cellphone.  Then I made 2 fatal errors.On the 10th of April, I sauntered with my friend, (a woman who was contesting as an Independent candidate for the Zila Panchayat election from a backward seat, )as we wove in and out of Bundeli villages, drinking water from the homes we visited, not realising that some water came from wells, others from bawois and some from God knows where. So we had ” ghat ghat ka paani‘, because in these parts refusing water is equivalent to hurting the host.   

Error No. 2. On the 12th, I accompanied my husband and our manager who got their vaccines but I bluntly refused. Vaccine? Oh no , not for me. Vatt Pateli.   That very evening I was invited as chief guest  for a function in Jhansi, where my friend, Dr Neeti Shastri was celebrating National Street Theatre Day and as I had been part of the street theatre movement in Delhi, back in the early days, I was happy to attend.  The only problem, (which of-course I realised in hindsight,) was that the anchor, a veteran journalist, who stood and sat next to me had a very bad cold and sneezed a lot which reminded me to keep my mask on firmly but when the photographers wanted to see my face, vanity kicked in ( I’m an actress) and I let my mask down in more ways than one, with chilling consequences., (Error No. 3).   

13th, 14th and 15th of April were busy days as I prepared to welcome Mother Durga who  it was said was coming this year on horseback and did not portend well for mankind. And I , in my fervour,  was determined to fast and pray and so I ignored the horrid body pain I felt for 3 days not for a moment imagining it could be the dreaded Corona. Then on the 4th day the pain vanished mysteriously and I had no memory of it as I gaily completed the Naudurga, fasting on fruits, coconut water and one  small meal of permissible items. I was continuing with my yoga, meditation, walks. No cough, no fever, no body pain.   Suddenly it got curious.

Error No. 4. On 23rd April, I committed another Pateli. I walked out in the noon heat for a small pooja we were perfoming at the farm for the creative Academy my husband is building and returned dizzy from the heat. ‘ Vinaash kaale vipreet buddhi‘ 2 hours later I was on my way to Jhansi, 15 kilometres away, helping my team source iron and cement blocks for the construction..After that every thing got black. I declared to all that I would self quarantine. I may have had a slight fever but since in the past I had never paid attention to it, coupled with the fact that we did not own a thermometer and did not see the reason to have one ( Pateli), I dropped into a pitch black hole of sleep, utter fatigue and an unquenchable thirst. A small cough started. Not dry or racking but just an irritating moist cough with phlegm. I did not listen to my husband who sent me a strip of paracetamol but cunningly tore one pill away and hid it under my pillow, in case he inspected the strip ( Pateli)   From 23rd to 30th, I kept myself strictly self quarantined. Food was sent to me outside my door but I was not particularly hungry. But thirsty, yes, and fatigued, by my standards. My yoga, walks, meditation continued but with difficulty. 

So for 21 days after possible infection I was sustaining without any medicine, only on fruits and coconut water.  Suddenly on 30th morning, I woke up with a panic attack and called my doctor in Mumbai who immediately prescribed some pills and asked me to take the RTPCR test. Now this test had been the bone of contention for a while. My younger son who is studying to be a scientist in New Zealand, along with his school classmate, My doctor,, who is in the frontline of Covid treatment in India, had been pleading with me to get a test done.  I had dismissed it as medical haranguing.I had first heard the term from my very concerned older sister, and ofcourse I was determined not to go to any hospitals for testing ( Pateli) But my Mumbai doctor was not going to listen to this insane patient in Orchha. A conversation happened between him and my husband and I was bundled off to to our small but clean hospital in the village where they stuffed some cotton up my nostrils and the dreaded RTPCR test seemed like child’s play.

I was seeing the outside world after 3 weeks, the weather was nice and I felt really well.   My husband’s younger brother and his wife were visiting and knowing my propensity to cure myself with fruits and water were not unduly alarmed as I now started to hang out with them, albeit always at a safe distance.   Then on 2nd late evening, the verdict came. Covid positive. We had been sitting out in the cabana, chatting, having tea, and suddenly within minutes my family disappeared like in stop block and reappeared covered from head to toe in whatever plastic they could lay their hands on. It was such a comical sight in an absurd situation where  within minutes the whole scenario changed. Of-course in hindsight it was not so funny!  Next day, 3rd of May came the epiphany, the real reason to write this personal chronicle. My husband, Raja Bundela, is well known in these parts as an activist leader, and without my knowledge an ambulance, an oxygen cylinder and a hospital bed in the most premiere hospital had been lined up. Lucky me!

No more Pateli for me

Clearly my family was in panic. I was pretty well and when I reached the hospital in Jhansi, a doctor rushed to me and slipped something plastic in my index finger, where I met an oxymeter for the first time. Puzzled, he did his check again and murmured…” 98″Then he asked me” Can you walk or do you need a wheelchair”? I was astounded even a bit enraged ( me, the compulsive walker!!!) Much too sweetly I replied,” No, I can walk. Thank you so very much’. To make my point, I walked faster than usual as he led me inside a door which read ICCU. It closed behind us. The room was abuzz with doctors, nurses and wardboys. Next they moved me to a sheetless bed and said that it had been sanitized for me. To my left I had a glimpse of a brown wrinkled arm and several people were thumping him up and down. (He died minutes later) The air was rent with what seemed to me like demonic sounds of people moaning and groaning, all out of synch, ; the AC was not functioning at its best and it smelt of anasthesia . I was asked to lay down on “my ” bed as the doctor hurried out.

I had 2 options, I could look around or I could shut my eyes. I suddenly remembered a line I had read somewhere, that during World war 2, the only Jews who had escaped the concentration camps were people who kept their inner bodies clean. And then all of a sudden, the developmental biologist, Dr Bruce Lipton and his seminary work, ‘ Biology of Belief’ popped up in my mind. He claimed that our cells prosper in the Petri dish of our bodies only if they feel safe inside. So despite the shock of being unloaded in the ICCU without warning, I closed my eyes and within minutes, I was roaming inside my body which till date I can remember clearly. I was surrounded by million, trillion tiny sparkling lights, much tinier than the string of fairy lights we put out in Diwali and Christmas but they were golden  yellow and each point was disappearing into another point which went deeper into another point in an amazing non stop dance. It felt as if I was roaming inside a large warm golden honeycomb. I thought I lay there endlessly as the sounds around me dimmed.  I am told that about 15 minutes later, I was aroused by the doctor who arrived with a flurry of nurses. He handed me a sheaf of papers to sign mandatory before being admitted to the ICCU. Shocked, I almost charged out of the unit, desperately looking out for my family.  Some more conversations happened. I convinced them that I was well enough not to utilise the ICU and to give it to someone who was really critical.   So I was sent to the room where my CBC and urine were taken. The sight of the stoic south Indian nurses, in their pink frocks, made me weepy with gratitude. A chest x ray was taken and I was allowed to go home. 

Next day I was asked to return to the hospital in Jhansi where they took a CT scan. Latest medical knowledge says it has the power of 300 chest x rays but this one was from the University of Whatsapp so it is yet to be authenticated.    By evening the report came. All was well.  But with Covid there is always a risk of pneumonia and I had a slight chest infection. And with that the allopathic medicines were started on me.Technically  then, I got my first shot of medicines after 21 days of infection.     This was the worst cycle. My body completely unused to medicine lay drugged and fatigued. I used to get panic attacks at meal times because the very thought of food was nauseous. I was dizzy. I fell down twice and was in a very bad place. But I ploughed through because of the immense loving care from my extended family. For 10 whole days my insides were  bombed with antibiotics to deal with the dreaded Covid. My body shocked and confused, just collapsed into a heap .

During meditation,the part who I think is ” me” I would often pity that dead weight . That was the time I thought of writing my will when I realised the full idiocy of chasing career, fame, money when my body was deciding whether it wanted to be “killed”, by chemicals in order to “survive” the virus. The existential question came up: Can matter destroy matter?After my ICCU experience, I can say with utter serenity, that in my case, energy was the most potent tool to kill matter.   This is not to say that one should not take medicine if attacked by the virus, or not take the vaccine, because physicians and doctors too have a life purpose, which is to help cure us. But the best cure is not to identify with matter. In other words don’t get hooked into the disease, don’t give it the attention it is craving. In short, do what the doctor tells you to do, but at the psychical level, give Covid the BIG IGNORE! 

Instead,while distancing yourself from your body, treat it like a ” treacherous friend” who when the time comes, will walk off the earth in death, whether one is ready for it or not. So while  still on earth, keep giving it the antibodies it needs in the form of laughter, sunshine, positivity or whatever it is that makes you happy. Joy is energy. This will create the best immunity to recover. This has been my first hand experience.   In conclusion then, I had spent the first 3 weeks without any medicine and then 2 weeks with lots of them. A huge thank you to everyone who helped me crawl out of the black hole, back to sunlight, yoga  meditation, barefoot walks in my beloved farm, albeit with much more gratitude and. .ZERO PATELI!  

From a spiritual perspective, there may be good news. It appears that disease, is like the cream that collects, when milk is boiled. The more it is boiled, the more cream comes to the surface. This may be equated to our ‘ Prarabdh karma’, or alloted karma, which has to be worked out this lifetime. So the onset of a disease ( likened to the surfacing of cream), forces us to work out our karma when we are still conscious and able bodied. By this token, who knows, the Carona may have reduced our karmic load, both individually, as well as from the perspective of collective humanity.


Susmita Mukherjee finally got her first Jab yesterday the 7th August 2021. Cheers to that.

Aradhana’s Pacific Adventures with Crustaceans

Early Learning

Like a lot of things these days, her interest in crustaceans coagulated into an actual project in the summer of 2020, right in the middle of Covid-19 Lockdown 2.0. She was holed up with her adventurous parents in one of the few tall buildings built right on a stretch of Pacific beaches, grandiosely called, Panama’s Gold Coast.

Her name is Aradhana and she is a prospective 7th grader at the International School of Panama. Her most prevalent learned behavior during these initial months of Covid-19 has been “Science Curiosity”, be it in Physics, Chemistry, Biology or Zoology. We were pleasantly surprised when she was recognized as ISP’s “Most Independent Thinking Student in Grade 6”.

After waking up with a smile each morning since the end of school, it dawned on her that perhaps she needed to test her newly discovered interests. And that made her look at everything with more focus and greater curiosity than before. We noticed that she could actually muster up sufficient courage to touch live creatures, whom she had only seen in books and dream of creating a shelter or even a habitat, where she could study their behaviors.

That brought her face to face with Hermit Crabs, her first Pacific crustaceans that she felt the need to befriend and understand, if at all possible. She wanted to observe, to study, to get familiar with them, till she could understand what their most pressing behavior traits really were.

So, she caught four (4) Hermit Crabs on the beaches of Playa Corona and named them: Herra (white, round shelled with 10 hairy legs), Hermes (brown-black, spiral-shelled with spots of white with 10 less hairy legs), Hermosa (tan & coffee colored spiral shell with 10 hairless legs, longer antenna and big red eyes) and finally Hercules, the smallest of the four, who looked like Hermes.

This quartet was introduced to their first home in a cardboard box with vertical cut-outs for windows, complete with lots of beach sand, separate bowls of fresh water and sea water and a potpourri of chopped lettuce and tomatoes. In addition, she created several human-made “hides” in the habitat, into which the Hermit crabs could disappear, if they wanted privacy.After an hour of investigation of all ‘ground floor’ facilities, all four Hermit crabs started showing-off their amazing vertical surface climbing proficiencies. Aradhana noticed that each had two (2) frontal “pinchers” which they used for eating, gripping when climbing, and protecting themselves from predators. These was followed by four (4) walking legs- two (2) on each side, and finally four (4) additional longer thinner legs that stayed mostly inside their shells and were only used when digging holes into the sand.

She got a first-hand demonstration of how effectively they could pinch to get away from predators, when Baby Hercules actually broke off a piece of her left hand thumbnail in less than a second!

Within an hour, this busy foursome, after feasting on the chopped tomato and lettuce repast, geared up for a visceral reaction to their captivity. They seemed to have decided they would break out and escape at any cost.

The next four hours saw five (5) increasingly intelligent and desperate attempts to get out of their makeshift prison. First, was a simultaneous attempt to climb up four different vertical walls, then edge onto the roofing (just cardboard flaps bent over) and slide down the other side of the outer walls. However, they were spotted by their pretty little jailor and returned to incarceration. The ill-designed roof was then “secured” by her with a remnant tile but she cut two (2) small windows on opposite walls to let the air in.

Several hours later, three (3) members of the group had burrowed sloping holes in the wet beach sand at different locations and were about to penetrate the soggy cardboard walls located there, when they were intercepted.

After these break-out attempts, I noticed Aradhana had become quite thoughtful about the whole matter of holding Hermit Crabs in captivity. Despite what Google had said about them being really friendly pets, she felt that her four (4) captives were really “born to be free” and to roam their own stretches of Pacific beaches, whenever they wanted. But she decided to “sleep on it” and leave her decision-making till the next morning.

Early next morning, I was awoken by her loud sobs. Broken-hearted, she informed me that “the whole lot” had climbed the walls and escaped through the smaller windows. Their habitat had been parked in a corner of the enclosed balcony, some distance from the tempered glass wall facing the ocean. Now, she couldn’t locate any of the Gang of Four on the balcony. So, over a mug of Darjeeling tea, I discussed options with her, before she wandered off. Suddenly, I noticed two (2) horizontal opening – each the size of a brick laying on its wide side, in the structure holding up the glass wall. They were drain openings to allow rain water to pour away from the balcony. 

I grabbed my flipflops and face mask and took one of the elevators to the downstairs Social Area overlooking the cascading swimming pools. As I looked for clues I noticed the same two rectangular drain holes under a similar structure holding up a similar glass wall. Gingerly, I made my way there and looked down to the first pool area with a row of long lounge chairs. My eyes soon picked up pieces of Hermit crab shells and some intact insides.

I realized that these Pacific crustaceans had a DNA with a built-in propensity to escape from bondage at any cost. They did not realize that when they launched themselves from their 14th floor Freedom Gate, they were still several meters away from the beach and the waves they were born into.

Author: Samar Choudhuri

Freelance writer based in the Republic of Panama

Date: June 29, 2020