Wednesday, 14 April 2021

L is for ... Long ... n ... Links ..

 



Let me confess that the first link that literally leapt into my mind at ‘long’ was Longfellow – 


Into each life some rain must fall

Some days must be dark and dreary.


And of course! -  

Lives of great men all remind us

We can make our lives sublime

And, departing, leave behind us

Footprints in the sands of time.  


And hard on their heels came some of the lines from one of the longest lyric poem in the English language, written by S.T. Coleridge


He prayeth best who loveth best

All creatures great and small

For the dear God who loveth us

He made and loveth all.

 

And from there I somehow, why somehow? - quite logically actually, ended up at Mariposa by Edna St Vincent Millay –

 

Butterflies are white and blue

In this field we wander through

Suffer me to take your hand

Death comes in a day or two

 

All the things we ever knew

Will be ashes in the hour

Mark the transient butterfly

How he hangs upon the flower

 

Suffer me to take your hand

Suffer me to cherish you

Till the dawn is in the sky

Whether I be false or true

Death comes in a day or two.

 

Not a single L-word in there, but the long and short of it is - love is forever linked with loss. Like it or not, there's no getting away. 

 

A-Z Challenge 2021   

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

K is for... Kwolek... n ... Knockout

 



Stephanie Kwolek (July 31, 1923 - June 18, 1914) was a renowned, much awarded American scientist who invented a polyamide fibre, known secretively as Fibre B in its initial years. It came to be renamed Kevlar (happily for me!). So that’s a double K entry here, read one and get one free – a knockout bargain!


Stephanie was born in Pennsylvania to Polish immigrant parents. Her father died when she was still a child, but from him she inherited a love of science and nature. Her mother was a seamstress and passed onto her an interest in textiles. But the lady told Stephanie she was too much of a perfectionist to be successful in the fashion industry. Stephanie initially wanted to be a doctor, but that was not how things panned out. She completed her bachelor's in chemistry and was looking for a stopgap job to fund her medical school studies. She ended up taking on a position in DuPont where she continued working for the next 40 years.  In retrospect, it seems perfectly fitting that she should have become a textile chemist, doesn't it?


In the mid-60s, DuPont anticipated a fuel shortage soon and their engineers thought that lighter tyres could improve mileage on cars. The idea was to develop light, strong, rigid fibres to replace the steel in tyres. At the time, the materials DuPont was working with had to be heated to very high temperatures to be melted and spun, and that did not work well as a steel substitute at all, because it made them limp. Stephanie was given the task of finding something that would work at lower temperatures and would not go floppy. The work was basically to dissolve long chains of a group of molecules called polyamides and then running the resulting solution through a machine that spun them into fibre. 


A particular batch Stephanie worked yielded, to her surprise and mild disappointment, a cloudy, runny liquid instead of the nice clear, viscous syrupy thing she had expected. But instead of just chucking the lot, she chose to run it through the machine and hey presto! it produced the strongest man made fibre in the world. Five times as strong as steel, as light as fibreglass, impenetrable to bullets. Kwolek had found exactly the wonder material her bosses had tasked her with.


Initially the uptake was slow, it did find its way into radials for racing. But over the last 50 years, it has been used for bulletproof vests and body armour, firefighter shoes, protective gloves for chefs, spacecraft parts, skis, tennis racquets, surfboards, canoes, cell phone casings - anywhere where strength and lightweight attributes are important.  Read an article from the 70's here for insights into Kevlar's markets then.


And what happened to Kwolek? DuPont made her in-charge of polymer research at its lab. She spent the next 20 years working there and retired in 1986. But she continued to consult for DuPont in her later years. She was awarded the Lavoisier Medal by DuPont, the only woman to have been so honoured till she died in 2014. She also received the Chemical Pioneer Award, the Perkin Medal, and a string of other awards/honours and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Women's Hall of Fame.  She also devised and wrote about several classroom demonstrations which continue to be used in schools today.  The Royal Society of Chemistry has instituted the Stephanie L Kwolek Award to recognise exceptional contributions from non-UK scientists. Kwolek served on committees in the National Academy of Sciences and National Research Council. A pioneer in the sciences and an inspirational  role model.


A-Z Challenge 2021  

Monday, 12 April 2021

J is for ... Janani Janmabhumishcha swargadapi gariyasi* ...

 




In memoriam: Arundhati Maitra (18.09.1938-12.04.2020)


You’re twined with lissome rains, with moist monsoons,

the fragrance of mangoes flaring in the wind

like your saree on the clothesline. Afternoons

cloudy grey, a slow tapping of imagined


heels on the stairs coming up to the second

floor, unfolding hours a palm leaf, a croton

splash of time, marble-veined, end without an end.

A moth shaped dark but the wings closed, not open.


Between your staircase and the terminal

are many years of yellow cabs and miles

of heartache, thumbing through material,

keeping equidistant from tears and smiles,


but now the ground’s shifted, changed its axis.

I didn’t imagine it would feel like this.






*'Mother and motherland are better than even Heaven.' 



A-Z Challenge 2021  

Sunday, 11 April 2021

I is for ... Imagine ...

 



Our species is unique in that it can imagine things and then turn them into reality. We are intelligent, but so are many others – the great apes among them. But one look at the art we make – the paintings, the music, the stories, and then there are the philosophies, the belief systems we devise. We have this capacity to deal with ideas, intangible, beyond the perception of here and now - all of it leaves no scope for doubt that our intelligence, imagination and creativity are a bit different from the rest of the animal world. We are inventive and innovative. Early human ancestors made stone tools half a million years ago and they were more aesthetically pleasing and more symmetrical than they needed to be to get the job done. Isn't that mind blowing? 


There are of course a gazillion inventions that have changed the world, but today I want to focus on just one - the internal combustion engine.  The IC engine is the prime mover, literally, in many types of vehicles - automobiles, aircrafts, trains  and boats. It's also the one that makes things like lawn mowers and chainsaws work. An IC engine is basically a heat engine in which a mixture of air and fuel is injected into a closed combustion chamber where it is ignited by a spark. The resulting high pressure and high temperature gases apply a direct force on some component,  a piston in the case of a car. The piston then moves a crankshaft which in turn moves the vehicle. 


The IC engine has an interesting history - a whole lot of people contributed to its invention and evolution.  In the late 18th century, John Barber developed a gas turbine, later on Thomas Mead devised an engine that burned liquid fuel. From 1800 to around 1850, various invertors in France, UK and Switzerland developed different IC engine models independently. In 1860 Jean Joseph Etienne Lenoir produced a gas fired IC engine. Followed by Nicolaus Otto in 1864, who created an engine based on atmospheric gases and obtained a patent for it. He went on, in collaboration with others, to patent a four cycle engine. In 1879, Karl Benz produced and patented a reliable two stroke petrol based engine and went onto produce the very first motor vehicle with them in 1886.  The IC engine continued to evolve apace in the 20th century as automobile production and demand grew. Turbocharged engines were developed and improvements carried out to make vehicles run smoother and achieve greater fuel efficiency.  Jet engines were created after air transport was invented.


The IC engine is one of the significant inventions to come out of the Industrial Revolution and will remain important for the foreseeable future. However, with technological changes in the auto industry and the focus on renewables, not to mention the pandemic forcing us all to re-imagine and re-evaluate travel itself -  it will be intriguing to see how the IC engine, and transport generally, will evolve in the years to come.




A-Z Challenge 2021  

Saturday, 10 April 2021

H is for... Hemingway... n ... Happy

 



Hemingway had written somewhere – if two people love each other, there can be no happy ending to it. I think it was in Death in the Afternoon, I’m not sure where I first came across it. It’s been on my mind all day today, ever since the news of the death broke, here around 2 p.m. Death in the afternoon. Though to be perfectly accurate, it actually happened in the morning.

 

I am not a follower or fan of any one of them. I do have an inexplicable interest in Henry VIII and his first two wives and Tudors generally, but modern kings and queens don’t really grab me all that much. But still. Who can remain unmoved at the ending of a love story of 73+ years? You'd have to be absolutely stony hearted not to feel for the bereaved, never mind how old HRH was or how expected the ending. I know from experience that no matter the predictability of the end, when it happens it is  still a huge shock to the system.


More than the natural empathy one feels as a spouse, however, there is a heightened sense of things coming to a close. A vague panic-cum-sadness at the recognition of an inexorable change of guard that's occurring. The WWII generations and the Partition memory keepers are going, mostly gone. Gone from my own tiny private sphere certainly. And so too from the wider global arena. With every death, a whole host of stories also die. The past becomes more difficult to access. It's unsettling - hard to wrap one's head around. I'd thought I would write about the history of hourglasses and timekeeping and all that, but I'm not feeling sorted enough for that.  





A-Z Challenge 2021  


Thursday, 8 April 2021

G is for ... Gentle... n ... Grasshopper-ish ...

 



It’s not exactly a grasshopper-ish, gigantic leap from faucets and plumbing to gender inequality. More like a gentle, natural progression. Not glaringly obvious to you? Let me explain.

 

In my previous post, I mentioned that around 800 million people do not have access to clean drinking water. A gobsmacking 2.5 billion, nearly a third of the global population, do not have sanitation facilities. And therein lies the crux of the gender gap. It starts with girls in the developing world, particularly those from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, dropping out of school once they reach puberty. One of the contributing reasons is - the lack of female toilets in schools. Curtailing of education means curtailing of growth, of opportunities.


The Global Gender Gap Report was first published by the World Economic Forum in 2006. It devised an equality index based on several different parameters such as education, employment, political empowerment, health and survival, and the latest version covers 153 countries. The index tries to assess how evenly each country distributes its resources among its male and female populations, regardless of how resource rich or poor it is per se. Therefore, it is not a given that the more affluent nations would have a better showing. A score of 1.0 would mean perfect gender equality and 0 would signify perfect inequality. In the real world, there are limiting factors like life expectancy at birth and survival rates which translate to the max possible score of 0.9949. 


What is gravely shocking for me is that even the most gender equal countries like Iceland, Norway and Sweden don't come close to this max limiting value. The highest value for the index is 0.892 (Iceland). The less said about India the better -  dismally behind our neighbours like Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Long way to go before we close the gender gap. The worst showing is by countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria - unsurprisingly, women are treated most unfairly in conflict zones. 


The pandemic has thrown its own spanner into the works. The current version of the report, which just came out in March 2021, has found the move towards gender parity has stagnated because of the pandemic. The hiring of women dropped during 2020 as compared to men, and rehiring after job losses has also been weak. Due to school closures, women have had to take on additional childcare/teaching responsibilities during 2020 and therefore have faced much greater challenges in the WFH environment than men. All in all, the covid era has been a setback for gender equality nearly everywhere in the world. Read more here.





A-Z Challenge 2021  

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

F is for ... Figure ... n ... Fresh

 




Figuring out a fresh new topic everyday isn’t a piece of cake, that’s why it’s called a challenge I guess. One can't just turn a tap and find an idea. Or maybe one can? - faucet! 


The earliest recorded ones were in  Crete – terracotta pipes and faucets were used to supply water in this kingdom as far back as 1700 BCE. The Ancient Romans used a sophisticated water supply system for their fountains, public baths and private residences of the affluent. Fancy faucets made of gold, silver and marble were used for the well heeled, and bronze and brass for the hoi polloi. Forward thinking engineers used canals, aqueducts, pipes, valves and faucets to keep the city supplied with running water. 


After the fall of the Roman Empire, their vast infrastructure also fell into disrepair and disuse. Europe descended into the Dark Ages. The refined plumbing systems that the Romans had perfected were no longer favoured, faucets and baths were not used except by the very wealthy. People preferred to draw water from streams and wells. The practice of bathing itself stopped being a social activity in the west, hygiene standards changed. For a long period, people were inclined to wash their clothes more often rather than their bodies.


The germ theory of disease, the relationship between disease causing micro-organisms and contagion, though long theorised, was incontrovertibly established by a series of experiments by Antonio Bassi in the early 1800s. Further work was done by Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch and a host of others, and epidemics of cholera were linked to contaminated water supply and poor sanitation. By the mid-1800s, plumbing and sanitation were back on the priority lists.  The first modern screw down faucet was invented in 1845, the first mixer mechanism in  1880. By the 1900s, nearly every household in the developed world had running water. Since then, turning on a faucet in kitchens and washrooms is something most of us take for granted. So much so that 'on tap' has come to mean something that's freely available.


Things are, sadly, different in the developing countries. Nearly 800 million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, South and East Asia, do not have access to clean water. And 2.5 billion people still lack access to proper sanitation.  Not an acceptable or a fair situation. 




A-Z Challenge 2021  

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

E is for ... Educational ... n ... Experience

 



Enervating and educational – two words sum up this last year for me. Two major lessons learnt. First, that it is possible to learn even while doing nothing –  no texts read, no MOOCs taken, no assignments done, no new spaces physically travelled to and energetically inhabited. It is possible to learn things solely by carrying on from day to day, it just requires a state of mindfulness, to pay attention to the mundane, the overlooked, stuff which I tend to brush aside.

 

And second, time flies, no matter what. No matter how dire the times are. This was a monumental surprise, to be honest. I had always thought time flies only when one is having fun. Otherwise it should drag on and on interminably. But no! Look at this last year – this annus horribilis, probably the direst of our lifetimes for many of us, so much hardship, so many obstacles and yet it’s gone, the whole year, just like that. Even on the days when I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed, the mornings turned into afternoons and then into evenings with astounding supersonic speed. That too is a blessing, this speed, the steady rush of hours and minutes of lived and lapsed experience. The speed at which time flies is really determined, it seems to me, by how event dense the period is, whether the events themselves be pleasant or unpleasant. It took a pandemic to bust the myth of bad times being slomo.

 

Epidemics are nothing new of course.  Disease is as old as humankind but settled agriculture made their spread easier and faster. Plagues were the price humans paid for giving up the nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle, for congregating in ever larger numbers, sowing crops and building cities where everyone lived in close communities with shared facilities. Paradise for parasites and bugs. Malaria, tuberculosis, leprosy, influenza, small pox etc have existed for at least 10,000 years. Travel, war and trade thickened the plot progressively. Pandemics happened when an epidemic spilled over the borders of one country into others. Those too are not new, unfortunately.


The first recorded pandemic occurred during the Peloponnesian War in 430 BCE. Something historians suspect to be typhoid-like passed through Ethiopia, Egypt, Libya and then onto Athens. It decimated the Athenians and was a factor in their defeat.  Plagues kept happening with monotonous frequency every 100/200/300 years, between the 2nd and the 6th centuries a series of them affected Europe. India and South Asia on the other hand have evidence of female deities dating back to around 2nd/3rd centuries, whose particular power was to 'cool fevers' and protect children, most likely from the small pox. As trade between the Mediterranean and South Asia grew, so did the pandemics. By 11th century, leprosy was a huge issue. And then the dreadful Black Death of 1350 killed one third of the world population. 


The Columbian Exchange introduced new crops and resources to Europe by the end of the 15th century, from where they were taken by traders and colonialists to Africa and Asia. India wouldn't have chilies, or Ireland potatoes had this voyage not happened. But the flipside was the exposure of indigenous peoples to diseases they had no immunity against - the Native American populations were devastated, an estimated 90% perished throughout the North and South Americas.  Plagues continued during the 18th, 19th, 20th centuries as colonisation and global commerce grew. In the 20th century, air travel and ever tighter linkages between nations compounded the issues manifold. But just as the problems grew, so did the search for solutions. But perhaps that's a subject best left for another time.




A-Z Challenge 2021  

Monday, 5 April 2021

D is for...Different...

 



Different – that’s what this feels like. This month. This world. This very daughterhood where there are no parents left to be daughter to. A disease has reshaped my entire existence. My parents’ death was not caused by the coronavirus, they were both covid free – my mother died of diabetes related complications, hypoglycemic encephalitis to give it the correct medical name. My father, of heart failure. Yet every aspect of their medical care, their death and death rites were defined by the pandemic. They had been isolated completely since March 22 last year.

 

My mother passed in April during the first, strictest of lockdowns, with no one but my father beside her.  I could go to my father only in October, once the restrictions were slightly relaxed. He died last month, 11 months after my mother, with no family members around, only the nurses and caregivers. The last rites were observed with just 2-3 people in each case due to the prevailing restrictions. By some miracle, two of my cousins were in Kolkata at the time of their death, one on my father’s side and the other on my mother’s – they  accompanied the hearses to the crematorium and lit the pyre. That a close blood relative could perform this final ritual for both my parents was a huge solace. I am their only child, there is no one else who can share the ramifications of this passing from the same perspective. I was able to fly in after a week after my father's death and do what needed to be done immediately – the dry procedures, the registration, the dispersal, the final turning of the key on the front door of the place they lived in for nearly forty years.

 

But for the pandemic their passing would be an opportunity to celebrate their rather full, long and interesting life. My mother was diminutive in stature, but no one was taller in courage, in joie de vivre, in faith and positivity that I know. She was a cancer survivor and a carrom and card player par excellence. She was named after a star and she twinkled like one wherever she went. She got cancer at 45 and died of diabetes at 81, that in itself is a blessing and a testimony to her spirit. My father was an art lover and an architect. He worked all over India - he designed buildings/projects in Bombay, in Delhi, in Chandigarh, in Calcutta, in the north eastern states of Assam and Manipur and god knows where else besides. He worked for the PWD in the public sector, for well known private architectural/engineering firms, and set up his own private practice too. Then he chucked it all up and moved to Nigeria and worked there for more than a decade. He loved images of all kinds - paintings and photographs, still and moving. He read widely and was a prolific correspondent. He had a phenomenal memory for people and numbers and an exceptional eye for detail, which he retained right to the end at 89 years of age. Both of them were poetry lovers and my first poetry teachers. Both of them had huge hearts and were 'people' people, kept in touch with a massive circle of extended family and friends from all over the world and took great pleasure in doing so. Unfortunately, all of this is kind of overshadowed by the manner of their passing, but I'm determined not to let it. Although I don't yet know how I'm going to stop it exactly.


My aunt, my father’s sister, his particularly cherished much younger sibling-cum-daughter almost, stuck in her son’s house many cities away, wept on the phone to me. I did not know how to comfort her. I do not know what to do with myself either. How does one get back on track? I get up in the morning and the first thought is, I must call them…and  a split second later I realise, there is no one to respond to that call. Some random memory pops into mind during an afternoon and I idly think right, I must ask my father about that, verify if I’m right, did it really happen that way? And then it crashes over me that there is no one left to answer these sorts of family history questions, the insignificant details in the fabric of bygone events and relationships. The final click of that lock has somehow unhitched me from my moorings and my past, rudderless, directionless, adrift in the ocean of an uncertain future. But then again, it's my parents who taught me to navigate, some little of it must have stuck - in time, I'll find my way home. 






A-Z Challenge 2021  


Saturday, 3 April 2021

C is for... Complex... n... Change...

 



Change is the only constant, the sole certainty in a volatile world. Sometimes infinitesimal – a slight shift occurring beyond the hassled, fragmented consciousness that passes for human attention nowadays, but then cascading into a groundswell that’s hard to ignore. And at others it’s cataclysmic from the get go, metamorphosing an entire familiar ecosystem in an instant to unrecognisable. All change shakes up and reconfigures comfort zones. All change is grist for growth. Adapt, or else! – be consumed. Initiate it yourself, or else be overwhelmed. 


The coronavirus pandemic has meant an avalanche of change, too much in too short a time. Climate change, large scale conflicts and civil wars, the refugee crisis remain the major challenges of our era. Unless some major changes are made, we are headed for trouble.


But change also means small sums of money - coinage. The first coins can be traced back to around 600 BCE to Lydia, a Greek state located on the Ionian coast in modern day Turkey. Coins stamped with a lion's head made of a gold-silver alloy called electrum were minted there. The concept of currency had been around for sometime. Cowrie shells were used for trade in Mesopotamia, Ancient China and India and various types of shell money was common around the world really. Now why the Lydians chose to mint coins is not quite crystal clear, but some historians feel coins were an exercise in streamlining and standardising societies that had become rather complex. An elegant experiment, in fact. Coinage allowed the Greek city-states to organise themselves in ways that made citizens feel they were transparent and fair. 


The idea spread through conquest and trade. By the 6th century BCE, coins were being minted in Aegina, Athens. Corinth, and Persia had developed their own coins. Gold and silver became the metals of choice rather than electrum. The value of the metal actually reflected the value of the coin, rather than an arbitrary amount stamped on the face as is done nowadays. Ancient Roman coins followed the same principle as did the Celtic ones. Coins were easily carried around and they provided an index of social mobility.


Coins were brought to India by the Achaemenid Empire and the successor states of Alexander the Great. Samudragupta (335-376 CE) is credited with creating the most beautiful coins of the Indian classical age. By that time coins had become powerful statement pieces - they portrayed the power and authority of the ruler, commemorated victories in battles, communicated messages/propaganda and chronicled the milestone changes in the life and times of nations. Quite a big deal really, not exactly small change.









A-Z Challenge 2021 

Friday, 2 April 2021

B is for...Balance...

 



Balance – that’s what has vaporised lately. There’s a Bengali proverb which goes as many tears as laughs but it feels untrue right now. Life is super complicated and is made up of more tears than laughter. Or so it seems. On reflection though, it’s a short term reaction, even the direst situation isn’t without its blessings. Just as there is much to grieve, there’s also much to be thankful for, I just have to count harder. The wise, the Bhagavad Gita says, are those who remain equipoised and accept the dualities that life throws at them - success and failure, joy and sorrow, flowers and thorns, and keep on keeping on.


But...that's really not the balance I'm talking about...the one I'm thinking of is far more mundane...it's a weighing scale. Two plates suspended from a beam and  a series of weights, it's a simple technology that dates back several thousand years. The oldest evidence of the use of a balance has been located at the Indus Valley  around 2400-1800 BCE. This is such a simple device that its use almost certainly predates the evidence. Archaeologists have found polished graduated weights from which they have concluded the use of weighing scales in those societies. Uniform cubic polished stones have been found in the Valley which were used as mass setting stones. 


In Egypt, stones with hieroglyphs for gold have been uncovered, the merchants there were obviously using a balance to measure the precious metal - either shipments or yields from mines. Although no actual scales have been found, many sets of weighing stones have been discovered. Murals also show balance scales indicating they were used widely by the Egyptians. In China, evidence for the use of scales go back to third century BCE in Hunan province. 


The balance has had a strong metaphorical value in cultures around the world, from antiquity to modern times.  The Mughal emperors had a tradition wherein the princes were measured against gold on a weighing scale during their birthday celebrations. The Egyptian god Anubis is depicted weighing the heart of the dead to decide the course of their afterlife. A sinless heart would of course be lighter than a feather and therefore gain entry to heaven.  Even in modern societies, the two pan balance particularly is heavy on symbolism as it is held by Lady Justice as an instrument of impartiality, drawing upon this Ancient Egyptian idea. 


A heart as light as a feather. Something to work towards, aspire to. Believe, and so it shall be.




A-Z Challenge 2021 

Thursday, 1 April 2021

A is for April... n... A-Z... n... Assume

 



Assume, just for a mind bending minute, that Islam didn’t get as far as India, that they did an about turn, both the marauders and mystics alike, from the Hindukush. What would India be like then? The short answer to that question is - abysmal


What would we have missed out on? The first thing that comes to mind is no Amir Khusrow, so no ghazals, no sitar. Indian music, both classical and light, particularly the North Indian stuff would sound completely different, a much paler version of itself. But hang on, not just Indian music. Fast forward seven centuries and take a shufti at the 1960s and that would sound quite dismal too. No sitar would mean no Ravi Shankar, no collaborations between George Harrison and the Indian maestro, no songs such as Norwegian Wood, which is on the list of 500 greatest songs of all time. Yup, one less on that list. Let that sink in while you take a listen.




There are a whole heap of other things too, of course. The luscious architecture of the Taj Mahal, for instance. Distinctive art of the Mughal paintings too, these guys were seriously into the pursuits of refinement and sophistication. Firearms and gunpowder, brought into India by the first Mughal king, Babur, from Turkey. Then there's the cuisine - all time favourites, droolworthy dishes like the Biryani, the  Kaliyas and Kormas, kababs of all kinds. The list could go on - the jewellery styles, such as the nose ring, and body art such as the henna tattoos; drier things like seamless celestial globes, maps and astrolabes; paper mills, spinning wheels and iron stirrups; more abstract things like the expansion of trade and economy. Without these, India would be unrecognisable. 


But what is perhaps the most far reaching impact was that education was liberalised under the Mughal emperors. Hinduism, mired in its caste system by medieval times, restricted education based on birth. The Muslim rulers upended that - they promoted the exchange of ideas, set up educational institutions where anyone could go learn, voraciously translated Sanskrit texts into Arabic and Persian and vice versa.  Islam brought in the idea of universal brotherhood and equality which was instrumental in the later reform movements such as the Bhakti movement and the rise of other belief systems like Sikhism. 


So...had the Muslims turned back from the Hindukush, India would have been a vastly different, much poorer place altogether. Far less attractive really, if you ask my free and frank.









Sunday, 28 March 2021

To B-Z or not to B-Z, is that even a question?





 

So this is my 71/2th year, as I withdrew halfway last A-Z.  Way too much going on still -  bereavement upon bereavement, trauma upon trauma, travel for all the wrong reasons, major life changes, pandemic panic. Relentless barrage of issues big and small. Feels awful rough out where I am right now. There's no headspace left over to think themes or schedule or anything, the time for those is long past anyways. And somehow, by some mind boggling coincidence, the badge above is black and sombre and fits right into the overall scheme of things here, so how not to A-Z? But also, how to??

 

Therefore, this is the somewhat sketchy nonplan this year  - go completely random, write on the day, write whatever comes to mind and as much as is manageable, read as and when feasible, lose the stress, keep on keeping on. In short, pantz it. 


One letter at a time, one word at a time, one day at a time. And maybe I'll get to a slightly less difficult space by the end. 


From the unreal towards the Truth, from darkness towards the Light, from death towards Deathlesssness. Let there be peace everywhere.







Sunday, 21 March 2021

Homecoming

 



It feels just the same – the marble white table,

the smell of stilled laughter under layered dust,

the rickety lamps, the tangle of cables,

the old photo frames in sepia crumbed rust.

The chairs are empty, the frog-like telephone

is no longer there, but old conversations

hang like spider webs. The owners are gone

but their presence lingers in dented cushions,

in pairs of shoes arranged in the shoe rack,

housebound for years now. Vaguely outlined

in spectacle cases, chipped bric-a-brac,

magazine crosswords and hobbies left behind.

Piles of stuff neatly stacked in the cupboards –

the papers, letters - the evidence of words.





Sunday, 14 March 2021

Chaturthi

 


Can you get me a garland of white flowers

and also some sandalwood incense please?

I’ve got cotton wicks rolled for my father

a terracotta lamp, reams of memories -

random phrases one after another

a fast spinning medley of layered stories,

and though I can’t speak too clearly this hour

there’s a mind that’s focussed on him, and peace.

 

There’s no sandalwood and no white garlands

you know that he doesn’t need any of these,

and nor do you need any unstitched garments

nor waters from sacred rivers and seas -

put a match to the wick, and cup your hands,

let the flame burn steady and that’ll be peace.





Chaturthi refers to the fourth day funeral rites, observed by a daughter for her father's soul. My father passed last Sunday. He was a pivotal presence in my life - my safety net and also my alpha reader. He read every poem I ever wrote here.


Rest well now, Baba. Rest in eternal bliss. 





Sunday, 7 March 2021

Old hands

 


I still dream. Of hills of trees. Of banyan mists

and sandstorm suns. Coffeepot clouds thread the day

into its hours one by one. It persists

in see-through layers of chiffon seaspray

wetting my toes. I still dream of tender wrists

from long ago resting on past laps, halfway

between memory, fiction, forgotten myths.

 

Yes, still dream but can’t recall all the details

except that they were beaded with love, carefree

laidback. They didn’t ask much. They left contrails

of laughter in curtained rooms. They let me be,

weave in and out as I wished, fall and fail

no big deal. They turned pages of poetry.

Picked me up time after time, though old and frail.