Friday, July 10, 2020

200. Stories on Satras of Assam

Assam has a rich tradition of Satras which are religious-cum-cultural centres related to Vaishnavism. A Satra has its hierarchy of administrators like Adhikars, Deka Adhikars, etc.
Recently, I read four short stories, written by the celebrated Assamese writer, Dr. Laxminandan Bora on Satras and their administrators. The stories are short, but extremely powerful. They bring out the struggles which young administrators of Satras sometimes face. There are certain expectations from them as administrators of Satras, but their own convictions and emotions as human beings may come into conflict with these expectations. The stories beautifully highlight such conflicts.
Dr. Bora is a recipient of Sahitya Academy award. While reading his stories, I had a feeling of reading something totally original and different. My conviction that the Assamese literature is studded with shining jewels got reinforced . Alas, people outside are not much aware of this richness.
I think, there should be large-scale translation of Assamese literature so that lovers of literature from other languages can taste the nectar. Maybe, some day, I will also try my hands at translating a few pieces from Assamese to Hindi and English.


Tuesday, April 28, 2020

199.How tourism destroyed a Spanish village

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During the lockdown, I finished reading ‘Voices of the Old Sea’ by Norman Lewis. The novel is all about how life in Farol, a remote fishing village of Spain, changes due to tourism and rampant commercialization. The process is spurred by corruption, money and muscle power.

Initially, the village is fully dependent on fishing, but tourism brings it to a point where fishing becomes almost non-existent, leaving the villagers worse off. They have no free time, their age old values are under attack and the social fabric of the village is destroyed. The impact of tourism on the village is brutally summed up by the Alcalde, a character in the book, who hopes for return to the old ways, ‘It’s a kind of sickness, an infection. In the past, we suffered from the plague. Now we suffer from tourists, but like any other sickness, it dies out in the end.’

In quest of peace and solitude, the author spends a few months in the village during three consecutive years. He becomes one with the villagers to observe their lives closely and understand their ways. His account of the village life is vivid and authentic. He is a mute witness to the transformation of the village.

While reading the novel, one is often reminded of some remote Indian fishing village with limited and unpredictable sources of income and its share of superstitions.

One requires some patience to complete reading the book, primarily due to the use of uncommon and difficult words. However, the book becomes more and more readable and interesting as one progresses.

On the back cover of the book, there is an interesting review by the Observer. It says, ‘After the war, Norman Lewis returned to Spain and settled in the remote fishing village of Farol, on what is now the Costa Brava. Voices of the Old Sea describes his three successive summers in the almost medieval community where life revolved around the seasonal sardine catches, the Alcalde’s bar and satisfying feuds with neighbouring villages.’

It is interesting to note that feuds with neighbouring villages can provide the necessary satisfaction, excitement and anticipation to an otherwise bored population with a lot of spare time and nothing much to look forward to. True, some requirements of existence can be effectively met by exciting feuds and not by monotonous harmony.

Monday, April 13, 2020

198. Use of teeth as ornaments

Lips, Mouth, Teeth, Smile, Strange
I read an interesting report in newspapers recently. In Turkey, excavators have found two 8500-year old human teeth which were used as pendants. The teeth had been intentionally drilled to enable them to be worn as ornaments. These showed signs of wear and tear, indicating prolonged use as ornaments.

The news is quite encouraging for people with tooth problems. They can now hope to ask their dentists to keep their extracted teeth and give some discount in bills. May be, teeth become so popular as pendants that dentists start paying those who need extraction. Dentists can then double up as sellers of pendants and may have tie-ups with jewelry chains. Patients may also insist on return of their extracted teeth so that they can sell the same later when prices go up.

May be, people who can keep all their teeth intact in old age will be considered wealthy. They will have the satisfaction of leaving a lot of wealth for their children when they die. People will say that so and so died, leaving 32 teeth behind for his/her children.

Women who are in the habit of breaking their husbands' teeth will be amply rewarded for their rage. Love may blossom if wives wear their husbands' teeth as pendants in necklaces. This way, if not whole husbands, at least their teeth will be close to their hearts.

Possibilities are immense and exciting. Ladies must sit up and take note. A new era of fashion is knocking on their doors. They must get ready to arrange some teeth from within or outside their families to be able to catch up in time.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

197. 'Aftertaste'- a delicious novel


Another book that I finished reading during the recent situation in Guwahati was Namita Devidayal’s ‘Aftertaste’. This is the story of a big business family in which money, ornaments, food and other materialistic things run supreme. There is little attention to relationships. The strong lady, who holds this world together, ultimately finds herself on her death-bed with all her children wishing her to die for different reasons.
The novel is very deliciously written and individual stories of different characters have been lucidly woven into the overall narrative without wires getting entangled.
‘Aftertaste’ is a novel you will find difficult to put down. I think, Namita Devidayal is an underrated author. She is far far superior to many Indian writers who have become famous for nothing.
If you want a simple story to which you can relate and which does not demand too much of intellectual grappling on your part, go get a copy of ‘Aftertaste’. The taste will linger much after you have finished reading the book.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

196.Durga Pooja in Assam

Today is the last day of the four-day Durga Pooja festivities. It was after several decades that I witnessed the Pooja festivities in Assam this year.
 Hundreds of Pooja pandals have come up in Guwahati. Wherever you go, you find a pandal with tastefully decorated idols of the Goddess Durga and others. Lights and decoration tell you from a distance that a pandal exists nearby. Crowds start swelling late in the evening with families hopping from pandal to pandal up to wee hours in the morning. Some pandals are so crowded that one has to summon all courage and strength to enter.

Durga Pooja is truly a people’s festival in Assam. Involvement of entire communities irrespective of caste, creed, religion and language can be seen. Everyone partakes of ‘Khichari’, a mix of rice and pulses which is offered to the Goddess.
The festivities give a chance to local artists to exhibit their skill to the fullest. Many pandals are built around specific themes like space achievements of the country and environmental pollution. Some pandals are so imaginative, creative and beautiful that words fall short in describing them. One feels that the artists of the region, if given proper support, can rise very high in their profession.

What I missed this year was the famous moving theatre of Assam. During my childhood days, moving theatres used to be an essential feature of Pooja festivities. We used to see plays, staged by them, on all the four days of the festival. The troupes used to go from place to place to stage plays. It saddens me to find that the moving theatre tradition in Assam seems to be on decline.

Friday, August 09, 2019

195. On demise of Sushma Swaraj

After Shiela Dixit, it is Sushma Swaraj. The news of her death came so suddenly. Just a couple of months back, when she attended the swearing-in ceremony of the Narendra Modi Cabinet, she appeared to be in perfect health, taking strong and confident strides. Death sometimes strikes silently, leaving us totally unprepared and therefore, more devastated.

Like Shiela Dixit, Sushma Swaraj was dignity personified. One never saw her losing cool and behaving in a mean manner. A smile adorned her face even in the most trying circumstances. This is one of the biggest qualities of a leader.


Her Parliament speeches are perfect examples of top-class oratory. Whenever she spoke, she appeared fully prepared. Sushma Swaraj put across her points extremely well without raising the pitch of her voice. Her command over the Hindi language was exceptional. Undoubtedly, she was one of the best speakers of our time.

I remember her media handling as I&B Minister and also as Health Minister. I particularly remember her press briefing when there was a serious bird flu situation. Her handling of media was deft. She always had a lot of friends in media and perhaps, no enemy.

As External Affairs Minister, she had the image of a very caring politician. She would quickly respond to any call for help on Twitter. She was a pioneer in using social media as a potent medium of grievance redressal. So many common people were beneficiaries of her alertness.

India has lost two women of remarkable character in quick succession. Their departure has left the political class much poorer.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

194. On fruit-sellers

This is the peak season for fruits in Delhi. Markets are full of mangoes, litchies, water melons, musk melons and so on.It is also the peak summer with the city burning at 45 degrees celcius.

Often, we see vendors sitting on the roadside with large piles of watermelons or mangoes. Sometimes, we see them pushing their cartloads in the burning sun, looking for customers.Our attention is always focussed on fruits.We haggle with them and buy a kilo or two. We have a sense of achievement in having brought down the price a bit.

Do we ever think of how difficult a life they are forced to live.They don't have the luxury of air-conditioner, water cooler or fan.They keep sweating and working in the heat. What choice do they have?

Back home, their families keep waiting for them. When they return home, their wives,children and aged parents eagerly wait for them to divulge how much they could earn during the day. This matters a lot to the family.

The cycle continues. They keep facing hot weather, rain, fog or terrible cold throughout the year. They take risks and play with their health for survival.

Can we spare a thought for them? Can we at least stop taking advantage of their helplessness and not try to extract a rupee or two through haggling? For us, this is a paltry sum, but for them, this may make a lot of difference.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

193. About a much-hyped book

Just finished reading 'The Diary of a Social Butterfly' by Moni Mohsin.As the name suggests, its central character is a socialite, full of vanity and foolishness.Wife of an Oxford-educated wealthy gentleman,she enjoys attending parties, going to US and UK for vacations and is rather unconcerned about the social and political developments taking place around her.
I was slightly disappointed with this much-acclaimed book. It lacks depth and its humour is not engrossing enough. The most interesting aspect of the book is that the writer has generously twisted English expressions to create humour. Savour a few examples- 'laughed till I became historical', 'he was triple by-passed only two years ago', 'he is going to have a nervous breakout'....
I think,our own Twinkle Khanna is much better and more engrossing if you are looking for some light reading,splashed with humour. Her short diary-style pieces have more depth and meaning.

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