The Vedas And The Upanishads ~Roopa Pai

Hinduism is difficult to understand. Most of us, who call ourselves Hindus do so because we were born in a Hindu household. We follow customs and rituals thinking that it is the way it is supposed to be done, confusing the rituals with religion. Each person has his/her own definition of what Hinduism is, some call it religion, some call it idol worship, some call it a way of life, some, have even confused it with nationalism. It is one of the most complex and yet the simplest concept/religion/philosophy (pick what suits you best). Despite all the variations and plurality in Hinduism, there is however a constant, none can deny that, the Vedas form the bedrock of Hinduism.

Roopa Pai is one of my favorite authors for children, especially those ten years or older. She has written books on Economics, science, and Krishna Deva Raya for the young ones, making complex concepts easy for them. She wrote the brilliant “The Gita, for children” ( read my review here https://undecidedindubai.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/the-conversation/). She has now followed it up with the book “The Vedas and The Upanishads”.Running at almost four hundred pages, this book skims the basic core of Hinduism. It has the Vedas, their introduction, the layers, the meters used for chanting the Vedas, the important Gods mentioned in the Vedas and a few of the important hymns, including my favorite the “Nasadiya Sukta”. The Upanishad section deals with the need and the history of Upanishads, a brief about Adi Shankaracharya and the ten principal Upanishads. Each of the ten Upanishads has been given its own chapter, its Shanti mantra(in English), the back story, the gist, explanation and an after story. The after-story is usually in the form of an example so that the children can relate more easily. Since each Upanishad has its own chapter, if you want to revisit and read only a particular Upanishad, you can pick that.

By the author’s own admission this is not an exhaustive work. It, however, is a great way to introduce children (and even adults) to the complexities of one of the world’s oldest religion. The book introduces the basic concepts in an easy way so that children can understand it. Written in an easy narrative style you can almost imagine the author talking to you while you read. What saves the book from becoming too preachy or “Satsangi” is the language and the references to the current world. She gives examples to illustrate the main points, the examples are such that the children can identify with. She has tried (maybe sometimes too hard) to sound appropriately “teenagery”, making the book more relatable.

There is lots of fun trivia amidst the heavy duty concepts. Do look out for the connection with T.S.Eliot, the topic, “How West Was Won” ( which in it’s sub-context, also points out to the syncretism in India) and the ultimately cool one, about the movie Matrix! Such trivia and popular fiction references make the book more unique. The book does not stand aloof and isolated but co-relates to issues being faced in the world today, like fake news for instance.

One of the drawbacks of this book (in fact, it is true for almost all recent books I have read on Hinduism) is the fact that the Sanskrit shlokas are in English. Sanskrit is hard enough, to read a shloka in English is even more difficult. The shlokas might be in English to make the books more approachable to people who cannot read Sanskrit and thus have a more global reach. However, I would prefer if the shlokas were printed in Devanagari script as well as in English. It will make it easier for people like us who can read Sanskrit and I do think it will add a musical cadence in reading the book. To be fair to the author she has translated the shlokas in English and given their meanings. In some instances, she has even given the pronunciation of the word.

Would I recommend this book? My answer will be an emphatic yes!!

This book is not a definitive guide, but it makes an excellent starting point, for both children and adults. The book doesn’t try to influence or enforce any belief. Even though it is the author’s interpretation the readers are free to make up their mind about the concepts introduced in the book. Do be aware that the concepts, even though told through stories, are quite complex. If in your enthusiasm you are handing the book to a ten-year-old, the child might not understand or may not want to read it as they might find the book heavy going. In fact, even as an adult, you need to be in an open frame of mind to understand and absorb the words.I, myself, took frequent breaks while reading so as to appreciate what the author had written. I would recommend the book for ages thirteen upwards (though good luck with convincing them to read what you recommended!).

The Gentle Breeze

Some of my most cherished memories of Dehradun are from the spring of 1995. It was the year of my grade ten boards, I used to wake up early in the morning so that I could get more done while the world slept. To avoid the temptation of crawling back in the warm razai, I used to go and study in the verandah. This verandah was an ideal spot to see the world wake up. The dark starry chilly night sky used to turn grey, pink and then pale orange as the sun started peeking out from behind the trees. The dawn used to the best time for observing the plants. The flowers of myriad varieties and colors, geraniums, begonias, phlox and my favorites the roses, shimmering with pearly dew. The rosebud drenched in the morning dew would slowly dry off as the sun rose, one by one the petals would unfurl until by ten in the morning it would be a full-blown rose. The transformation used to leave me mesmerized and in awe of the power of nature. The garden would become noisy, full of birds, parrots, mynahs, sparrows, hopping, chirping creating a din that reached a crescendo at dawn. They seemed to be chattering, eager to go on ahead with their day.

Afternoons were spent on the roof, where I used to sit in the shade of the overhanging branches of the litchi tree. The mild breeze and the swaying green leaves would make the afternoon sun a little more gentle. The birds now had softer chirps, as if they too felt drowsy with the heat. The trees, the chirps, the breeze, all conspired to create an atmosphere most conducive for teenage daydreaming, the books open but their words not really registering.

The sunsets were a marvelous show put up by nature, the shades of orange, grey, pink and all in between, bleeding into one another, creating a new painting every day. The pigeons and parrots, cooing and squawking, almost as if they, too, were singing praises to the Lord. The colors stayed for a long time in the sky after the sun slipped behind the mountains, till the stars started twinkling and the sky was covered with millions of them, covering the deep dark sky.

Alas, the year I became aware of the beauty of nature in spring was also my last spring in Dehradun. The magical mornings, drowsy afternoons and glorious sunsets are now lost. The lack of time and rampant construction all around means that we hardly get to breath fresh air, let alone see the blue sky. Even when we go on vacations it is now hard to just sit still and observe, the brain refuses to switch off the to-do list in the mind.

Sometimes, however, these elusive gifts of nature seem tangible. The smell of neem flowers in the summers of Dubai, the bees hovering over flowers in my mother’s garden , a single butterfly coming out of no where , asking you to follow her, or like today, when I am sitting under a tree with the wind caressing its leaves and cooling me in this heat, the birds are chirping merrily, the woodpecker flitting close by, the deep red of the flowers a deep contrast with the green of the leaves.

If I close my eyes, I can almost imagine myself back on the roof in Doon.

Television and Feminism

I have always been addicted to Television, from the days of Doordarshan when the hours of telecast were few, to the days of unlimited cable service to the days of Internet TV with choices like Netflix and Amazon Prime. When all the household chores are done and I am in no mood to tax my brain to do some reading, I vegetate in front of the TV. In the days of Doordarshan, there was no choice, you watched what was on, that too it was available only for a few hours a day.  Whether it was “Udaan”, a series about a brave woman IPS officer, or poor Lady Sita crying buckets of tears, waiting for Lord Ram to come to rescue her, I lapped it up! With the advent of cable TV in India, Ekta Kapoor, burst into our homes. Her serials with the mother-in-laws, daughter-in-laws, sarees, palatial homes, big bindis, joint families all were in vogue. Most of these serials were regressive, to put it mildly, but the Indian public was quite enamoured of them. The serials soon descended into bizarre territory with the “dayans”, “nagins” et all.

I was almost cured of my affliction to watch Television by such programs when Netflix burst on the screen. There was suddenly this huge volume of series and movies from all across the world at the click of a button. The genres varied from comedies to drama to action to lifestyle to reality TV. After the initial heady days, when I couldn’t figure out what to pick and watch, I realised that Netflix was a treasure trove of series from across the world, documentaries and independent movies. One particular series which acted as a catalyst for this post was “Working Moms”. This series is about a group of young mothers, who are about to re-join the workforce after their maternity leaves are over. The series shows issues from post-partum depression to giving full attention to your job without neglecting your child to finding yourself again as a woman, to not look at yourself as a mom or a wife, but as a woman. The series is light-hearted but touches the topics which most of us mothers have had to deal with. These are the issues which usually get over-looked or swept under the carpet, which is why most of us would empathize with the characters; you have been in their shoes, some point in your life.

This series made me realise that there is a lot of content on Netflix/Amazon Prime which can be labelled feminist, some direct while others might be a little subtle. The documentary, “Period, End of Sentence”, shows patriarchy in rural Haryana and how the installation of sanitary napkin machine chips away at the same patriarchy. “Soni” is a movie about two female police officers working for Delhi Police. Even though the protagonists are police officers, they are still shackled because they are women. It shows the struggle is not only with the outside world but also within our homes.

“Made In Heaven” and “One Day At a Time” are series which have a strong feminist core but belong to the mainstream commercial stream. “One Day at a Time” is about a Latina single mother of two who is an ex-army nurse. So the main character is a Latina, divorced, suffering from PTSD and a woman, all the odds definitely seem to be stacked against her! The series however never becomes morbid or depressing even though the topics it touches are very pertinent in today’s world.

“Made In Heaven” is this season’s favourite. It is about Indian society viewed through the lens of weddings. It shows hypocrisy, patriarchy, adultery, superstition and the inherent bias (of even educated Indian people)to homosexuality. By first look, it seems that the series is a fluffy take on the high society weddings of Delhi, with protagonists wearing designer wear, looking extremely polished and talking impeccable English. You delve deeper however and the world turns darker, behind the glitter is the grime of our society, dowry, superstition, exploitation of the weaker sections, the abuse of power. The fascinating part is that it is a mainstream show, produced by a  leading commercial team, yet the topics are not safe, they will make you uncomfortable and push you out of your zone.

Television and movies are mainstream mediums. they reach and influence a large number of people. They have the ability to bore into the minds of the people watching, which is why content is very important,you cannot negate the fact that Ekta Kapoor’s serials, howsoever regressive, influenced the popular culture and to a certain measure even the thought process of the individuals watching them. We cannot generalise and say that there have not been any feminist shows on Television, there was “Udaan” way back on Doordarshan, even “Balika Badhu” started off with a strong feminist core. It is equally not correct to assume that all the content on the web has feminism at its core or is non-regressive. One advantage which the web series do have over regular cable television is the freedom from certain regulations which in turn leads to better content on Netflix/Prime as compared to regular cable tv.  I am quite sure if there was no Netflix/Prime we wouldn’t have had outstanding series like “Sacred Games” or “Inside Edge” or the more recent one “Delhi Crime”. Since the web platform is more content based, lots of small documentaries and independent movies now have a place where they can be seen. A movie like “Soni” or “Manto” has no chance of getting a commercial release, even though they have done brilliantly in the festival circuit. Netflix/Prime give them a chance, that they can be viewed at least by some people who might be interested in such topics. People might argue that India is not ready for such programs, but does that mean we should be exposed to the mind-numbing, logic-defying content, rather than something which echoes what real life is?

The basic reason why we watch Television is entertainment, but if the same entertainment also ignites a spark in us, makes us introspect or be more empathetic then it’s double the value, no?

Bravehearts

“Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.”

These words from the poem “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” are often quoted to show the dedication of the armed force. The CRPF personnel massacred in Pulwama were also following orders. The nation was still coming to grips with it when there was another encounter and four more Bravehearts lost their lives. This one hit harder home as one of the Bravehearts Major Dhoundiyal, was from my hometown of Dehradun. The news channels and Indian twitter was awash with the scenes of brave send off by the wife of Major Dhoundiyal. Shock, horror, anger, sadness, these myriad emotions chased one another in my mind when I first read about the carnage in Pulwama. My eyes couldn’t help but water up at visuals, first the tricolour-draped coffins, scenes of the carnage and then the young lady’s courage.

My father sent me a picture of the newspaper, there were two stories side by side. The first was about Major Dhoundiyal, his martyrdom and his brave wife. The second story was about the rent owed by the former chief ministers to the state of Uttarakhand for overstaying the in official accommodations. My father asked us for our views/reactions to the two stories. At first, the two stories had me dumbfound, a little later I was filled with a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. The two news reports showed the dichotomy of Indian society. The first news report showed the courage of a simple yet extraordinary family, of how even their lives don’t matter if for the greater good of the country. The second news report showed the dishonest politicians, the ones who have made a career out of siphoning money and are not even the teeniest bit apologetic about it.

I fail to see a future for a country where the politicians, like parasites, keep sucking the money and resources meant for the nation. A country where soldiers and policemen are treated as cannon fodder to pander to the delusions of grandeur by the politicians. A country which uses the Republic Day parade to massage the ego of a nation who, in truth, doesn’t really seem to be much interested in the welfare of people who protect our country. While we all watch, hearts swelling with pride, the columns marching by; While we listen to the politicians mouthing empty platitudes; The same governments sign their death warrants when they sign defence deals for sub-standard products and pocket millions of dollars; When they make wrong policy decisions and send these brave men to the point of the no return.

The point to ponder is if only the politicians are to be blamed and not the citizens of India? It would be a fallacy to put the entire blame only on the corrupt politician and absolve ourselves of the moral duty as citizens of this country. We have been given the power of the vote, unfortunately, most of us vote according to our caste, region or religion. We let the politicians get away with pocketing the change as we do not hold them responsible for their work and policies. We, in fact, accept the corruption of the politicians( irrespective of party lines) and therein lies the biggest problem of our democracy “Accountability”. We do not hold our politicians accountable and thus they behave with impunity. If you hear any politician’s speech, the blunder is always made by the other party, they themselves will never, ever own up to their failures and their ineptitudes. Apart from harming the nation, this has affected our armed services the most. For us the scams of defence deals like Bofors, MIG parts and Rafale are only newspaper news, it is our armed forces who have to bear the full brunt of these. The citizens of our country rather than asking our netas questions fall in the trap of endless shouting matches which masquerade as TV debates. Our patriotism is somehow limited to shouting “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” or in forwarding Whatsapp messages and sharing videos on Facebook. We get agitated and influenced by the people spewing venom instead of words and start baying for blood, without any thought of consequences.

Maybe its time we made our politicians accountable. The next time your neta comes asking for the vote, ask them. Ask them what they did with their MPLADS fund, ask them about what they did about development in your area, ask them to show you the proof, ask them about their foreign junkets and farmhouses, ask them about the cases pending against them, ask them about the cases against them which vanished the moment they came in power. Make them accountable rather than accepting it and saying “Yeh India hai, Yahan sab chalta hai”.

The time is ripe in India for the mandatory draft for all the citizens of India. I am quite sure that the Armed forces will not be happy with all the riff-raff coming in but I do think that this is the only way that our armchair patriots and defence experts will learn what truly loving the country means. It will teach them the courage to actually work for their country and not just wave the tricolour on 15th August and 26th January. The so-called activists of all the parties, the ones who stand up for our culture, our religion, our cow, our downtrodden, our secularism, should be the first ones to be drafted under this scheme. Maybe then they will realise what facing the enemy truly means(and no it doesn’t mean beating up someone just because they disagreed with you).

In this age of instant news and social media, the martyrdom of these soldiers will be buried under other news very soon( it is already happening, barely a week after the first attack). There is an old song sung by Lata Mangeshkar, “Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon” which implores people to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers It is a song we all should listen to, over and over again, lest we forget that martyrdom of even a single soldier doesn’t only affect his family, his village, his town, but it affects the nation as a whole.

I am not a trained analyst who can objectively look at issues and find a solution. I am a simple person who is affected by the senseless loss of lives. Ideally, I would like to live in a world which has no conflict, but I am a realist enough to know that it is not possible. I can, however, hope and pray that such horror doesn’t happen again.

On My Bookshelf

My last post, India For Kids, was about books which introduced the wonders of India to our children. That post, however, lead to requests by friends for recommendations of non-fiction books for them as adults. Non-fiction as a genre includes self-help books, biographies, travelogues, religion and many more as sub-categories.  Non-fiction is not something that can be breezed through and requires some effort in terms of time and concentration, so it is not everyone’s cup of tea. I personally avoid self-help books but enjoy reading books on religion and history. Thus it is all about your personal preference in choosing a book. Quite a few times people do want to read but are daunted by the actual task of picking out a book. Book lists like this one just give them a nudge in picking out a book. 

  • Sapiens (Yuval Harari). A bestseller, which it certainly deserves to be so, this book deals with the history of humankind. On paper the premise sounds boring, the author, however, has written the book with such engaging anecdotes and examples that it keeps you hooked. My favourite part of the book is when he writes about religion.
  • India In Slow Motion ( Mark Tully). One of the most famous faces of BBC in India, Mark Tully has not only distinguished himself as a credible journalist but has also authored several books on India. This book ranges on topics like Ayodhya, corruption and Kashmir from a very humane perspective. You cannot help but see how the book has been written as an impartial observer and yet it retains the essence of India’s heartland.
  • Why I am A Hindu ( Shashi Tharoor). I know its surprising to pick this book over “An Era of Darkness”. While the latter dealt with the pillage of India during the two hundred years of British rule, I found this one more engrossing. In today’s age of socialism, agnosticism and nationalistic Hinduism, a liberal Hindu is somehow lost. This book found me nodding my head quite a few times at the author’s words.
  • Our Moon Has Blood Clots (Rahul Pandita). Kashmir valley has been a troubled spot for many years now. A lot has been spoken and thought off, for the separatists of the Kashmir valley. However, the Kashmiri Pandits, the ones who bore the brunt of the happenings in the Kashmir Valley were a forgotten lot. Journalist Rahul Pandita has written a first-hand account of leaving the valley. He has included the accounts of those who left their homes and became refugees in their own country. It is a moving heart-tugging tale of displacement and then overcoming the odds to shine again.
  • An Utterly Impartial History of Britain (John O’Farrell). I know history is not enjoyed by everyone and that too, the history of a country which ruled you for two hundred years. This book is, however, a laughter riot with tongue-in-cheek humour eliciting chuckles at a steady rate. A totally delightful way to learn the history of a country who either directly or indirectly shaped the world we live in today.
  • James Herriot. I have mentioned the name of the author instead of the books as I loved reading all his books written under this pen name ( The author’s actual name is James Alfred Wight). James Herriot wrote about his travails as a country vet in the moors of Yorkshire. Written with classic, subtle British humour, his books showed his love for the animals and made for an engrossing read.
  • The Gita, for children (Roopa Pai). This list has been made keeping the adults in mind, however, I knew I had to add this book as well, even though it is classified in thirteen plus age-group. Most of us are aware of “The Gita” but are unaware of its nuances and depth. This book is an excellent starting point to discover the magic of  Gita and the philosophy of life. (I have written a detailed blog post reviewing this book which you can read here: The Conversation.)
  • Three Cups of Tea (Greg Mortensen). An autobiographical account of Greg Mortensen who has been instrumental in building schools and spreading education in Pakistan and Afganistan. He writes about the challenges faced and his acceptance of the social norms in his fight for the right of education. The book shows how an ordinary man can bring about change.
  • In An Antique Land(Amitav Ghosh). Described as narrative, travelogue, historical account and even autobiographical, this book follows two parallel narratives. The first one is an account of Amitav Ghosh’s stay in a village in Nile Delta, Egypt during the eighties. His interactions and observation with the natives form the backbone. The other is the historical account of an Egyptian merchant and his slaves in India. Amitav Ghosh has tied the two narratives beautifully which stays with you long after you have finished the book. 
  • Begums, Thugs and Englishmen (Fanny Parkes/ William Dalrymple)Long time ago an English Memsahib, Fanny Parkes, came to India as the wife of a moffusil district collector. She was neither totally “native”, nor was she one of the aloof memsahibs who refused to mingle with the people of the country and thus she had a very colourful time in India. Edited from her personal journals this is an interesting read, especially the part about Thugee and the establishment of Landour ( of particular interest to me since I am from Dehradun).

 

This list has been made in keeping with my interests, there are however scores of other books on many more topics which might be more appealing to you. Do not hesitate to experiment, as only then you realise what you are actually interested in.

If you have read (or are planning to read)any of the above books, I would love to hear your views. 

 

Haroun and The Sea Of Stories

Salman Rushdie is one of the most famous, prolific and controversial writers of Indian origin. His books are consistently on the bestseller lists, win awards and sometimes even earn him a fatwa. You, however, cannot deny the fact that he is an exceptional writer who has a large repertoire of work loved by the readers. My very first Salman Rushdie book was “Midnight’s Children”, the book which won him the Booker Prize and made him a literary celebrity. The book, however, became my Mount Everest, which somehow I couldn’t scale. Despite getting hooked in the story, due to myriad reasons, I couldn’t manage to read beyond the first hundred pages. Fifteen years and three attempts later, last year I made it a goal to finish Midnight’s Children, come what may, and I am glad I did finish it! The book was poetic, the mesmerizing saga of a family and the child whose destiny is twinned with the destiny of a country. Salman Rushdie was quickly added to my list of favourite Indian authors. The second book of his which I read was “Joseph Anton”, picked up from a book sale. “Joseph Anton” is the autobiographical work of Salman Rushdie about the dark years he spent hiding incognito when the Fatwa was declared against him. The book revealed more about Salman Rushdie as a person and also about the books which he wrote during this time. The first book he wrote and published during this period was “Haroun and the Sea of Stories”.

This book is about a young boy Haroun Khalifa, whose father is a master storyteller. His father, however, loses his gift of gab when Haroun ’s mother leaves them for a person who doesn’t tell stories. Young Haroun helps his father get his gift of storytelling back and thus saves the day.

“Haroun and The Sea of Stories” has been classified as a children’s book. In fact, this book was written by Salman Rushdie due to a promise made by him to his son. The book, however, was written during the time when Salman Rushdie was in hiding after the declaration of a fatwa against him. The colours of fatwa are visible in the book. Thus “Haroun and The Sea Of Stories” does not remain a simple children’s book but becomes a defiant declaration by Salman Rushdie. Reading through the book you cannot help but draw parallels between the characters of the book and people of the real world. You can mentally imagine and maybe, even permit yourself a smile, as you realise who “Khatam Shud” alludes too and what Salman Rushdie is trying to say when he writes about the “bezuban” and the “pollution of stories”. Using his pen Salman Rushdie made caricatures of the leaders who attacked him and turned them into objects to be mocked and pitied.

This book, in essence, favours free speech and artistic freedom. If so, is it then suitable for children to read? I think the answer to this question is an overwhelming yes! The story is simple, yet beautiful. The characters quirky, funny, imaginative and will stay with the children for a long time. The language is very easy to read, yet it flows poetically, drawing the reader into the tale. There is a strong flavour of India with Indianized names like Batcheat/Chup/Mali. Even Gopi(as guppy ) and Bagha make an appearance albeit as fish! Haroun’s character of a young boy who loves his parents is endearing. The children will love reading about a boy as young as them, who doesn’t have any super powers but yet manages to go on a magical journey and save the sea of stories!

This book has been classified as a children’s classic and I have to admit that I concur with this rating. The book is reminiscent of storytelling sessions with grandparents, it is a fantastical tale with funny characters and there is a fable-like quality to the whole book. This book will never be out of step with the events around the world and will always be relevant. So if you have an eleven or twelve-year-old who loves to read, give them this book, let them discover the magic of Salman Rushdie’s pen. It is quite probable that they might not understand the underlying currents and symbolism of the book. However, I assure you, they will fall in love with the story and the magic that it weaves. And hopefully, once they become more aware of the world we live in and read the book again, they may find the depth of the Sea of Stories.

Print to Celluloid

A few months ago I had written a blog post Patriotism and Bollywood, which mentioned the movie Raazi. After the post, a friend messaged me recommending me to read the book“Calling Sehmat” which was the basis for the movie Raazi. Her argument for recommending this book was that it gave Sehmat a background story as well as an insight into what Sehmat thought and felt. That message left me thinking about how we look at movies when we have already read the book on which the movie is based.

“Not as good as the book”,  is something which fellow bibliophiles and I have said quite often when we watch the print to the screen versions. Though books and movie are both visual the approach of both is different. Books are written words, the author chooses those words which the author feels will convey the author ’s imagination to the reader. The reader on reading the words interprets them in an image, usually a little bit different than what the author had imagined. Movies, on the other hand, show us pictures ( that’s why they are called motion pictures), it is the director’s interpretation of the screenplay. The actors show us real emotions rather than we imagining the exclamation marks.

Books versus movies have supporters on both sides.  When a book is written it is the work of the author’s imagination, the editor’s hard work and the marketing of the publisher.  When a movie is made there is the whole team of director, actors, screenwriter, costume designers, technicians etc behind it. With such a huge number of people involved, even a simple book gets a larger, grander scale. When you read about Scarlett O’Hara walking down the staircase, you use your imagination as to what she would look like. When you see the movie, however, Scarlett gets personified as Vivian Leigh. Now, there is no need to imagine as you can watch Scarlett/Vivian sweep down in the staircase in her red gown. If you try and read Gone With the Wind again after watching the movie, try as hard as you may, you will keep seeing Vivian as Scarlett and Clark Gable as Rhett Buttler. After watching the Harry Potter movies, I could not imagine anyone else but Daniel Radcliff as Harry. This is true for most of the book to screen movies, once you watch a movie, the movie overwhelms your imagination and you recall the movie when re-reading the book.  Purists might say what is the point of reading a book if all the imagination has already been done for you. It, however, can act as a boon in certain cases, Harry Potter for instance.  Hogwarts is a magical castle, we all have read that, but the magic of Hogwarts on screen, with its turrets, staircases, paintings, nooks and crannies comes alive when we watch it on the screen. The screen also makes the world of make-believe real, thus the desperate state of affairs in Charlie’s house (from Charlie and the Chocolate factory) also hits you harder when you see it on screen than when you read it.

The biggest complaint of book lovers when they watch their beloved books on screen is that sometimes the story does not go “By the book”(excuse the pun). The movie which is the perfect example of this complaint is “The Hobbit”.  A slim book of about 351 pages, it has been directed into three two hour movies. Talk about running off with a tale! The fact that the movie doesn’t have to do much with the book is pretty apparent from the above fact. It is the same with the Fantastic Beasts’ movie series. What started off as a slim spin-off booklet from the Harry Potter series is now a movie franchise with two movies already out and two more in the works. The movies have very few characters in common with the Harry Potter series but such is the Harry Potter mania that the movies are blockbusters even before releasing.

One very big advantage movies have over the books is the mass appeal of the movies.  Movies being a vibrant and visually appealing medium reach to a much larger audience than books. I am quite sure that the number of people who have seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy is much more than the number of people who have read it, most of the people will be put off by its size itself! In some cases, it is definitely easier to watch than read, for instance, the Game of Thrones series. With the multitude of characters and storylines, it was much easier to watch it than read it! There is a flip side as well to this, people might watch a movie and assume the movie to be the true story even though the end might be different than in the book. Look no further than the movie Frozen, the movie is very different from the original of Hans Christan Anderson.

The fact remains that books provide a gold mine of stories to be adapted into movies or series. Even Bollywood, not the most cerebral of the mediums, has started looking towards books for stories like in Padman, Two States, Raazi. They have even managed to stick to the basic story despite inserting song and dance sequence to give them mass appeal.

The sad reality, however, is that in this day and age of limited attention spans, people prefer watching than reading. Thus the number of people who watched the movie “Theory of Everything” will be more than the number of people who read the book Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking. 

Who knows even this post might go down unread as it is too long!

What is in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
                                     By any other name would smell as sweet.”

 

These oft-repeated clichéd words were written by Shakespeare in his famous play Romeo and Juliet. The literal translation is even if you rename rose with some other name, it’s perfume and beauty will not be diminished, in other words, the beauty of the rose is not dependent on its name. This quote has been going around in my head ever since I read that the name of the city Allahabad has been renamed to Prayagraj and more recently Faizabad was renamed to Ayodhya.

I have had a fascination for names of places/localities in cities. The older localities in cities and small towns throw up such odd/weird yet mind-boggling names. For example in Meerut in Uttar Pradesh, you have areas called as “Lal Kurti”, “Budhana Gate” and even a “Jali Kothi”. Even the more colonial Dehradun has localities like “Khurbura” and “Jhanda Mohalla”. The capital of Lucknow has areas like “Telibag”. Contrast this with the names of the new areas of the towns, you will find an MG Road, a Shastri Nagar and a Mayur Vihar in almost all the towns of North India. There is a uniformity which is boring, bland and somewhat political as well when names of new localities are influenced by the political masters. When I hear names like “Lal Kurti” I wonder how did they get such bizarre though unique names. All these names point to the past in which some incident/person/or use led to a particular name being associated with the area and over a period of time became the given formal name of that particular area, giving a distinct flavour to cities. Now suddenly the Government of India has also started taking interest in names of cities. According to the latest report, about 24 cities/towns have been given the approval to change their names with many more proposals for a name change on the cards.

While the history of words/names is not a very popular branch, in recent years the Government of India seems to be suddenly interested in it. It has started tracing back the names of the cities all the way back to ancient India and is now on a renaming spree. Thus the anglicized Baroda became Vadodara, colonial Calcutta became Kolkatta, Islamic Allahabad became Prayagraj, a caravanserai on the GT Road changed from Mughal Sarai to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhaya Nagar. There are now clamours to change Ahmedabad to Karnavat and Agra to Agravan. People seem to believe that we should go back to our roots from whence we came. The ancient name of Allahabad was Prayagraj and thus we should go back to that, to take pride in our regional/religious identity. Similar arguments were given for renaming Bombay, Calcutta, Bangalore, Madras, the list seems to be growing each day. Name of a city has now been associated with nationalistic, regional and religious pride. What the renamers forget, is to go back to the roots is to actually lose the identity and the growth of the city. Prayagraj in ancient times grew, became a city, was renamed to Allahabad, grew again. Over the years it assimilated cultures, people, customs leading to the Allahabad city of now. Renaming it back to Prayagraj will not take us back in ancient times and erase Allahabad, Allahabad is an indistinguishable part of today’s Prayagaraj. Changing the name of the city does not mean the city itself has changed, like the rose, the city with its charms, idiosyncrasies and problems, remains the same.

By a stroke of their pen the governments might change the name of the cities but can they change the city itself?  Calcutta was renamed Kolkatta, but can they change the fact that before the British established their trading post on the banks of Hoogly, it was a small hamlet. It was Calcutta, the trading post established by the British, which became the Capital of India until it was shifted to New Delhi. It was Calcutta which gave us stalwarts like Tagore, Mother Teresa and Satyajit Ray. Bombay was renamed to Mumbai, but can they change the fact that before the British, Mumbai was a fishing hamlet. British made Bombay the financial hub it is now by joining the seven islands of Bombay. Renaming it to Mumbai does not erase that fact. Nor does renaming it to Mumbai change the spirit of Bombay. The fact is that the city still remains the city of dreams, a city where everything is possible.

I sometimes wonder if the current or a future government would try to change the name of Capital of India since that is also of British origin. New Delhi, where the current government and ministers reside, was built by Lord Lutyen when the capital was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi and inaugurated in 1931. If so, will they go back to Indraprastha or will they take into consideration Siri, Ferozabad, Tughlaqabad, Shahjehanabad or Dilli as well, since those too, were the names for the city?

I recently read a book by a Pakistani author the premise of which was how systematically the successive governments of Pakistan renamed the Hindu areas/cities in an effort to erase its Hindu past.  The similarity with the current renaming spree in India cannot be missed. The politicians seemed to have missed the point that History cannot be erased, it happened, and that needs to be accepted as a fact.No one possesses a time machine to go back to change the parts of history which are abhorrent. It is the future of our country that we have control over. We can either keep renaming cities, harking back to days of lost glory and ancient pride, or we can work to make our cities reach new heights with better infrastructure, facilities, sanitation and health services so that we actually have something to take pride in.

In the meantime, since according to Shakespeare the name doesn’t really matter and the core remains the same, I am going to continue using the names Calcutta, Bombay, Gurgaon, Madras and CP( how I hate the name Rajiv Chowk!!)!