'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Cyclist, Again

I have not been cycling much of late. However, there have been two postable events last week. Here goes...

1. I need to deliver a package at a friend's home. I enter his 'society', reach his block and look for a place to put my bicycle in the ground-floor parking area. I see a parking slot which has no name written, no car and has half a dozen two wheelers. I lock my bicycle in a corner there.

"Hey what are you doing?" I hear a stern question and look up. "What do you want?" it is an 8-10 year old chap staring at me.

"Got to meet Mr. XXXX, Xth floor" I answer.

"That's okay, but why are you putting your bike here? It is our area!". I look for the name board again to confirm his claim when he says. "Hey, what are you looking for. It is our area! Still in doubt?"

I weigh my options quickly in my mind, conclude I have none and say: "Fine. Let me leave the bike here for five minutes. It is only a five minute job upstairs."

"Okay!" he agrees. I turn towards the stairs when his voice rises again. "Yes, five minutes, okay?!"


2. I pull over to a mall+multiplex to watch a film. No visible parking area for bicycles. In a corner of the compound, some bicycles stand crowded together. A smart-looking guard stands nearby. I ask him: "I came for a film. Can I put the bike somewhere here?" The response is: "How do I know... Put it somewhere!" ("Kya maloom? ... Lagao!" in Hindi). I am not satisfied and so I ask him: "But, are you not a security officer for the multiplex?". He says, monosyllably: "No!". I give up and sqeeze my hapless bike into a gap among the others.

A couple of hours later, I return. The guard is still around. As I pull out my bike, he asks: "What is the time?" I readily take out my cell from the pocket. It has been off. I switch it on and read the time. Then, I silently put it right back in the pocket and pedal off.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

On Friendship

"There is a ship that sails, day by day, in the lap(sic) of Time. That ship is Friendship'" That was a near literal translation of a Telugu song which is a free translation of a Tamil song, which merely says, among other things: "Friendship is a ship that never sinks!"

I don't understand friendship well. Once when challenged by someone to define it, I could only say: "a friend is someone who you really want to help and who you are sure of receiving help from" - as simplistic as that. A well-wisher once told me: "I am aware, most of your friendships do not last very long. I can readily see a common factor - all those friendships involved YOU! - and that should give you a clue as to why they don't last!"

I won't talk more about myself but shall try to translate the most telling - and understated - evocation of friendship I have ever read. It is from O.V.Vijayan's 'Khasak'.

The context: Towards the end, Ravi is about to quit the village school teacher's job at Khasak and to leave the scene, seemingly for good. The local tailor Madhavan Nair had been a great help with the school and with many other practicalites, in a very unobtrusive way. The two men had also unofficially been guardians of the village idiot 'Kili', recently orphaned. Note: the stuff in brackets is mine.

Khasak was hit by a violent storm and torrential rain for a few days...

"The day the storm abated, Ravi and Madhavan Nair found themselves walking up the slopes of Chetali. It was near sunset. Khasak glimmered in the distance....

"Where will Kili sleep?" Ravi asked.

"Where else, but my shop!" said Madhavan Nair.

They walked back, down the slopes, past palms felled by the storm...

- "Madhavan Nayare! Sad, Kodachi (a woman who used to sell liquor and much else to wayfarers) is dead."

- "Yes, was quite a shock..." Madhavan Nair trailed off.

- "And who lives in the hut beyond?"

- "Oh, it is our Nani;.... and she seems to have caught leprosy"

Their conversation turned more desultory. Ravi talked about some movie. Madhavan Nair described a fireworks display he had recently seen in Trissur. And they talked...

They parted at the gate of the school (which had also been Ravi's residence). Ravi paused awhile. Madhavan Nair walked without looking back; As he climbed the slope into the village, Madhavan Nair thought of going back to the school. He approached his shop - "Tonight, Ravi will sleep in the school. Maybe sometime later, I could just walk across and wake him up and we could sit and talk a bit more; and then, I could take leave; and maybe I could again go over...".


The next day, Ravi woke up very early. ..... As he stepped out, bag and umbrella in hand, he left the key on the door frame - he had told Madhavan Nair it would be there....

There is a personal reason for trying try to translate the above passage (as literally as I can, with a minimum of editing) - rather than quote from the 'official' English translation of this masterpiece, done by Vijayan himself. To self, this translation, in spite of the amazing lyricism it often achieves, has some serious problems: For instance, in the above passage, there is an unnecessary "Madhavan Nair felt an urge to be with Ravi a little longer." and later "Ravi had told Madhavan Nair not to come; he wanted to avoid a farewell". And earlier in the passage, there is also an equally unnecessary translation of the name 'Kodachi' as 'the woman of the mountain mist'

Monday, November 05, 2007

'Bakras' And 'Bhakris' - A God's Feast

4th November 2007:
It is a pleasant, sunny mid-afternoon as we (friend and host/guide for the day Vitthal, his family and self) turn our car off the Satara highway at Pargaon and head westwards. The intent: to see the 'jatra' at the temple of 'Kal Bhairavnath', the tutelary deity of the Sonawane clan, to which Vitthal belongs.

The road runs across rolling Deccan country - arid, sparse cultivation, a few scattered villages,... - towards a wall-like range of hills to the west. Approaching the village of Karnawadi, we leave the main road and follow a stony pathway down a hillside, which eventually flattens out into an open ground. About a dozen vehicles are parked there. A good number of colorfully dressed people are sitting around, among whom many are Vitthal's relatives. They seem to be having a merry meal out there; we join in and set to work on bhakris (rough, flaky and earthily tasty rotis of jowar and bajra), potato bhaji and laddoos...

At the far end of the ground, a thin stream, its path marked by a strip of dense greenery, flows thru a shallow valley. On the bank is an open-air shrine with several stump-like stones. "These are supposed to be our ancestors" said Vitthal. Indeed, these stones are venerated and food has been laid out in front of them. As we explore the place further Vitthal narrates the 'sthalapuranam':

"A pious Sonawane lady once had the darshan of Bhairavnath at the village of Ahire. The lady beseeched the Lord to come and be at her village of Karnawadi. Bhairavnath agreed. "You and your folk proceed to your village. I shall follow; but do not look back until you are there."

"On the banks of this stream, the lady decided to turn back and see the lord again. She was warned of dire consequences but she did not heed them and told her people: "let us all turn back and behold His form. Even if our lives end with that vision, we will die with the Lord in our eyes."

"And they all looked back and they all were turned to stones, the ones which we worship out there. And a temple was built in Karnawadi for Bhairavnath, where the entire clan gathers for the jatra every year (Vitthal himself has come down from far away Chennai). As you just saw, we first halt at this stream, have a meal and then proceed to the temple."


The Bhairavnath temple is pretty much like one of the few dozen houses that form Karnawadi. There are many more people about - "these are more rural folk, hardcore Sonawanes, unlike us, who have migrated to cities", says Vitthal. We enter the temple. The interior is very crowded and choking with the smell of camphor and incense. The idol of Bhairavnath is of a highly polished metal - he appears as a mustachioed and turbaned warrior. To the lord's left stands the idol of his consort (her name is lost to my memory now), who looks, interestingly, taller than him.

Behind the temple, people are assembling gas stoves and fireplaces to cook the feast. About a dozen goats are tethered, seemingly unaware of their fate. Several children are gathered around the goats, some touching them playfully, some stroking them affectionately... "Every family in the clan brings a goat. They also arrange 'kasai's to do the slaughtering. These kasais are all Muslims and for generations, they have played this key role in this celebration. They do not charge a fee but are gifted the goats' skins."

We watch the first sacrifice(*). The kasai, who was until then indistinguishable from the worshippers in attire and speak (he even sported a prominent 'tilak'), steps up to a goat, knife in hand; he sweeps the animal off its feet with an expert hold and slits the throat; death is mercifully quick and takes only a few seconds. The process of flaying the victim and cutting up the meat into neat little pieces takes about 10 minutes - and then he steps towards another goat which had been a mute witness to the proceedings. We withdraw...


At about 5 pm, a 'palki', borne by two men, ceremonially leaves the temple and proceeds to the entrance of the village. Another palki, (it has been brought all the way from the village of Ahire) arrives presently and the two palkis move in a procession back towards the temple. Drums and cymbals whip up a vigorous rhythm and some devotees (mostly athletic, rural-looking men) break into a dance, possessed by the spirit of Bhairavnath; some others start throwing red gulal powder around and soon, the dancers are almost steeped in red. Several 'City Sonawanes' occupy strategic points to record the procession in handycams, digicams and cellphones...

Some devotees go around with the red powder and apply it to the foreheads of those around who in turn give a 'return dusting' with the same stuff. Very soon, we are all choking with gulal...

The palkis reach the temple and the dancers rush into the temple one by one; there they are given a drink of sanctified water and are calmed - the spirit seemingly leaves. It is almost 8 pm now.

Vitthal's family gathers for dinner in a stone-built village house with cowdung plastered floors. Being mostly vegetarian and followers of 'Warkari'-induced 'Satwik' devotion, they bring their own food and eat it separately, not partaking of the celebratory mutton.

Later, we go out to watch the main feast. People sit on the road in front of the temple, paper plates in hand. A strong, spicy aroma rises as a devotee brings a bucketful of mutton pieces of which he gives everyone a generous handful. Then comes another guy, who tips a dash of gravy from another bucket into each plate. Then each person gets a stack of rough bhakris to go with the 'bakra' and off they go. Within minutes, they are done and a fresh set of devotees take their place and wait for the bucket of mutton nuggets...

Dawn breaks, silhuetting the Purandar hills to the east as I drive up towards Pune. It has been an eventful day, the proceedings have been far more than worth losing sleep over...

(*) - Strictly speaking, these are not sacrifices. The mutton is not ritually offered to Bhairavnath; the slaughter and consequent communal consumption of the mutton is more of a celebratory act than a religious ritual. Yes, these matters of detail apart, I certainly *do not* find animal sacrifices morally repugnant or whatever - if someone is non-veg why can't he not share his favorite meat with God?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Perils of Emailing

I am old enough to be among those who spent part of their adult lives in the inland/card era. I saw the advent of email and then watched the internet revolution happen and like most folks, I too benefited immensely from these developments (and can't imagine a life offline). But, I also feel quite acutely about some serious social losses brought about by these innovations. Specifically, I want to write about the collapse of friendships due to (bad) emailing. It is indeed a sad irony that a powerful medium that 'atomizes' the physical distance between people, often leads to conflict and breakdowns...

Here, I recount two events (or processes) caused by the 'Fw' (forward) functionality of Email.
1. I used to be good friends with a certain Tom. And Tom used to be as good friends with a Harry. And I hardly knew Harry. Once Tom told me in one of his regular mails how interesting a character Harry was and how helpful. Those were times when I felt I could do with some help so I sent a mail to Tom asking for Harry's email address and a brief intro.

Soon after, I get a mail from Tom which went:
"Hi, forwarding Harry's mail to me. That will give you his address - Tom"
Right below that was Harry's mail to Tom. It went:
"Hi Tom, Sure, you could pass on my address to Nandu. - Harry"
Harry had written in reply mode to an earlier mail from Tom which was right below and went:
"Harry, A friend, Nandu was asking for an intro to you and your address. Can I give them to him? Of course, I will pass them on only if it is okay with you. - Tom"

I wrote to Tom saying the following: "Thanks for Harry's address. Just a remark. You could probably have cut out your mail to Harry before forwarding his mail to me. It is quite okay if you tell him "I will give your address to Nandu only if it is okay with you" but I felt a little pained to read that. You probably should have deleted it from what you sent to me. Hope you understand."

Tom replied: "Hey, you are hyper-sensitive(*) man! I just bounced Harry's mail to you - it had the info you needed and I did not bother to check what was below his mail. Basically, I did not have the time, too busy. And why on Earth did you dig down and read *everything* in that mail? Perhaps you have too much time on your hands ( :) )"

This is simpler. There is a certain Dick who I used to know very well. He was (and probably still is) at some point working for a top company in some top position. I was looking for a job so thought of writing to him with my resume attached. Shortly thereafter, I received a mail from Dick:

"Hi, Our HR says (I am forwarding their message) there is no immediate requirement. You will be on hold. Shall keep you posted. Best, Dick"

Right below was the HR boss's mail to Dick:
"Hi Dick, yes, right now, there is no post for which this candidate can be considered. Let us see. Regards.... (name)"

The HR, in turn, had responded to an earlier mail from Dick which was right under:
"Hi, Sending the profile of one Nandakumar for your consideration. I do not think he is suitable for any position here. But what is your opinion? Let me know - Dick"

(*) - Cynically speaking, "You are too sensitive!" translates to "Gotcha! I have won!" (well, in the process of writing this post, I learnt what 'Gotcha' means precisely, thanks to Wikipedia)