Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guru Dakshina

The sound still echoes in my ears. Tha … Dhi … Dhom … Nam ….. Rao sir repeated the first lessons in Mridangam to his dazed six year old disciple. It was Vijaydashami (1984) … an auspicious occasion, which in South India is considered suitable for Vidyarambham or initiation into any new realm, especially into fine arts. My parents had spotted in me an aptitude for percussion instruments and decided to initiate me to the rhythms of Mridangam. Sri Nandikeswar Rao - or Rao sir as we used to call him – my mother’s colleague in the Fine Arts Department of a PSU, was to be my Guru. In accordance with the established norms of traditional propriety I offered him the Guru-dakshina and touched his feet to seek blessings ( a gesture which means to say -"I am willing to accept your tutelage in all humility and am ready to imbibe all that you have to teach, in the way you wish it to be imparted" - not that I understood any bit of that back then).

Rao sir was a strict disciplinarian during our regular sessions, mostly held in the living room of our quarters, with the furniture temporarily rearranged to make space, just enough for a rug to seat us. I would sit on it intently listening to the chollu (verbal codes for beats) emanating from his mouth and then would strive to reproduce it on the instrument. He would stop me the moment I went off-beat or he felt that the tone of a beat is not as it was supposed to be. I would then continue playing that bit for as long as my fingers hurt bad enough for my inflated ego to allow tears to appear. His face would soften up instantly.... but he recovered quickly, made a stern face and told me "go, wash your face ... and come back quick".

We slowly graduated from the basic lessons to more complicated rhythmic combinations. After the classes he would patiently note down the days lessons meticulously in a note-book so that I could practice in my own time ( which rarely hapenned). The frequency of the sessions increased as we approached a music competition or a concert at the local temple and decreased during my school examinations. He occassionaly used to take me to his guru Nandu Master (a near centenarian who had a saintly demeanour and a graceful smile that could inject humility into any haughty head) to obtain his approval of my progress. I can distinctly remember the gleam of satisfaction on his face when I qualified for a national scholarship in the discipline of classical percussion instruments. Every year on Vijaydashami day my father would drive me on his scooter to Rao sir's house where we would repeat the customary rituals of Vidyarambham followed by a sumptuous breakfast.

with Rao sir and Nandu master

Rao sir inadvertently wanted to live his dreams through me and actually considered me to be like his son. I however, did not in those days fully comprehend the intensity of his desire to make me a good mridangist. Though I loved playing, I somehow knew that I was not cut out to take it up as a profession. I left home after twelfth and adopted a profession that kept me away from classical music. It was only when I went home on leave that I saw him and could always spot a strange sadness whenever our eyes met.

I was on leave a couple of years back when the news of his being at the hospital reached me. He was asleep when we entered the ward ... a frail reflection of his real self. We were told that he was not in a position to recognise or communicate with people. A peculiar emotion .. a mixture of grief and guilt came over me ..... and I mentally requested for forgiveness ... for not being the person he wanted me to be. I almost got instant deliverance as he slowly opened his eyes, gave a weak smile and raised his hand as if to bless. He passed away in a few days.
Today is Vijaydashami ... and I offer this post as Guru Dakshina to the most dedicated teacher one can ever get and the most honest and sincere person I have ever met. May peace be with him.

African Safari III follows ......

Friday, October 5, 2007

African Safari Series II - Masai mara

Nairobi is like any average Indian town .... the hussle-bustle, traffic jams... road-side vendors ... tuk-tuks (auto-rikshaws) ... bumpy roads's all there.The Satya Sai/Jalaram temples and healthy number of the Indian fraternity on the roads made us feel at home as soon as we landed in town. The weather too was pleasant with the temperatue ranging aroung 19/ 20 degs C. Elijah, our jovial tour operator introduced us to Maina the tour guide who would take us through the tour and Daniel his chela (or shinkidi as in coloquial malayalam). I was pretty much impressed with Matatu the safari van that Maina was driving and which would be our vahanam for the next five days. After a quick bite we set forth towards the famous Masai mara wild-life sanctuary.

We had two halts, the first one to get view of the Great Rift valley from a vantage point and then at a place called Naroak to have lunch. We reached our destination a couple of hours before nightfall and straightaway proceeded for an evening game-drive. Believe me, all fatigue caused due to two days of non-stop travelling was forgotten in a matter of minutes. A band of wild-elephants of varying sizes and ages passed by our vehicle compelling us to shake off our sleep.

Two juvenile pachyderms were enjoying a wrestling bout and another was relishing a mud-bath. I could relate to the fellow as kindred spirit on spotting that impish grin .... the sort I used to sport while returning home from school, with the all-white uniform turned virtually brown. The kiddos were tagged along by the older ones, visibly displaying aggression as if to accentuate their protective intentions. As we drove on ... zebras, wild-beasts, hart-beasts (kongoni in swahili) and various species of antelopes lined the track to welcome us into the animal kingdom. Even as twilight was fast approaching our probing eyes were on the look-out .... keen to spot some members of the big-five club, as they call it. It was then that a leapord walked right in front of our vehicle unannounced and gave a feline pose. It is a pity I couldn't capture him .. on camera, of course. The big cat being totally unaware of my genetically lethargic motoneural response vanished into the flanking tall grass even as I was trying to fine-tune the focus of my snap-gadget. Maina tried in vain to pursue the fella.I guess the matatu was no match to him in matters of pace and stealth.As darkness descended we retreated to the camp site where Ben, our gregarious host awaited us with refreshing cups of tea.

I had opted to stay in tents instead of lodges mainly due to limitations imposed by a strained purse.This, however turned out to be a blessing in disguise. A room would never have afforded us the thrills of camping.The next day was dedicated to a full day game drive. After a heavy breakfast of porridge, pancakes - which Sudha savoured, thinking them to be dosas or goacho polo (konkani) to me precise - and eggs, we headed back to be amongst the beasts.

We were previleged to be granted an early audience of His Majesty. The King of the wooded- world was enjoying a morning siesta when the matatu's engine sounded reveille .... and to our discomfort, the boss didn't seem a bit amused. His ladies were busy with their stretching routines a few feet away. [Lions are amongst the more sociable of predators.They hunt in groups and share the food, much unlike leapords and cheetahs, who believe in doing it all alone].

As we ventured further, the radio (every safari vehicle has one) suddenly started registering more traffic, warning us of some action ahead. Maina deciphered the conversation and drove us quickly to the scene of action. A Cheetah was stalking a bunch of antelopes, but quickly got into the bushes on seeing the vehicles approaching. We waited for about an hour and patience paid dividends as the cat sprang out from an adjacent bush and walked past us (with a look that spoke it's mind - why don't you guys let me hunt in peace). He looked visibly tired or rather hungry as saliva profusely dripped out of it's mouth. Maina had a good look, took a few moments to think and passed an expert's verdict that the Cheetah would rest for a while before venturing again.We moved on after offering a mental apology to the cheetah.[Cheetah is the quickest animal that walks the earth. However they are sprinters and cannot sustain a run of more than 100m , after which they get too tired to continue.They therefore, stalk the prey to get as close as 40-50m and then unleash their stored energies on the hapless victim].

The gait of a giraffe reminds one, of the lanky ladies with attitude (no taunt intended ..:)) who walk the ramp. Perhaps the term giraffe-walk is more suited to their glamorous perambulations than the oft used cat-walk.This analogy was confirmed to be appropriate when I saw traces of envy on someone's face even as I was engrossed in taking snaps of a Giraffe family.

The mara river which flows along the Kenya-Tanzania border has numerous hippos and crocodiles. The mara stretches into Tanzania and is called Serengeti across the border. That's where the wild-beasts, zebra's etc migrate to in Jan-Feb every year only to return after six months. [The Hippos look docile and lazy during day and mostly remain in water. At night they move on land and are violently aggressive. The males mark their territories in a unique way - you may call it the motion-fringing method - and do not entertain any intrusion into their sovereignity even by their own offspring].

We were fortunate to witness and experience many more situations that were simultaneously exciting and pleasing. I'll mention a few. Vultures swooping down on carcasses and tutoring their young ones on the techniques of scavenging ...... a mother cheetah putting her cub to sleep (the scene reminded me so much of my granny putting babies - ranging from my nephews to cousins - to sleep, that i could almost hear Omanathigalkidavo the popular malayalam lullaby ) ....... a filthy hyena chasing a hapless bird ....a Lion family sharing their food ....... I can go on.

you may visit my snapshots for a few more snaps

On our way back to the camp after an action packed day we visited a Masai village.The tribals still dressd in their traditional attires (they seemed to love the red colour) and live a primitive lifestyle. Many however spoke english (courtesy,the missionary schools) and had perfected the art of milking the tourists. We visited a few homes, witnessed a celebratory dance and a surveyed an artefacts market before heading back to our tents.We had a livelier evening than the one before.Read about it and about the rest of the journey in the next post .............. & thanx for being here ....... :-)

to be continued ....

Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Oneness Metamorphosis

I was to write the second post on African Safari today, but prefer to postpone it for a while... and I have good reason for it. I just happenned to read this post by my sis Nanditha which inspired me to write a poem after a time. It might read like junk, but i need to jot it down here. I hope to have captured the spirit of her post.

Life flew past, not whole, as sought.....
As if was coxed, with the rudder lost.
The perplexed state, what course to take,
I was, as always, lost in thought

A beam shone bright, from a coastal might,
it did mutate my forlorn plight.
A portent, telling ...."vibrant life"?
The shore ... my hope, now well in sight

The light enticed the pupal stage,
the larval state is history now.
The cocoon spun, intense but fun,
the tangled status, well undone.

As time went by, the mess was cleansed,
The mind tranquil, all thirst was quenched.
Oneness glowed, .......don’t ask me why?
I felt............. I were,... a butterfly.

Friday, September 21, 2007

African Safari Series - I

I must confess that while setting out on the East African Safari I hadn't bargained for as much as it eventually offered. I ventured only because it made sense to me to see atleast a bit of the "dark continent" while being posted here. The chance of spending a few days with my wife was a pleasant addendum. Since I will not be able to do justice to the vacation in one post, I propose to intiate a series commencing with the present one.

The plan was to arrive at the optimum balance of liesure and adventure within the limitations imposed by my tight budget.Here is how we went about it:-
Day 1, 2 and 3 :-
I landed at the Entebbe airport (40 km from Kampala) in Uganda where Sudha joined me after about an hour. (This is the same airport where the Israeli commandos carried out a successful clinical raid in 1976 after an Air France plane was hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists who were overtly supported by the notorious Idi Amin).

We hired a taxi to Jinja, a small sleepy town on the banks of Lake Victoria, halting on the way in Kampala to change money and give an "All OK" report back home. We felt at home while driving down the country side as the vegetation and landscape was much akin to that of Kerala. The road side was lined with jackfruit, banana, papaya and coconut trees as well as hibiscus and bogainevilla plants. There were stalls selling tapioca and fish.The yam leaves (the base ingredient in the recipe of "Patravodo", the patented konkani dish) were in abundance. We checked into a laid back resort called Kingfisher which had refreshing ambience, a lake side beach, beautiful flora & fauna, boating facilities and a swimming pool. Add to it some homely food send across by ammumma and I felt like someone had given me the address of paradise.

The number and variety of birds in this place was amazing. Lanky herons, melodious bulbuls, beautiful egrets, the pied kingfishers, noisy commorants, majestic fish-eagles ... and the list goes on. We even hired a local fishing boat to go to the isolated Samuka island where I suspect some trees had more birds on the branches than leaves. Joseph our boat-man cum guide poured out his knowledge to the extent that we soon felt overdosed.I found the fishing techinique employed by the pied kingfisher very interesting. It would hover a few feet above water fluttering its wings hard and nose-dive into the lake on spotting a fish. I waited for long to get a good snap but was dragged away by ..... you know who.

We had interesting company. A big British family comprising of father, mother and eight kids who were all over the resort (in fact we were so curious that I had to tactfully ask the father wether all kids were actually his, which he confirmed). I loved the concept and spirit of the vacation that this family enjoyed. While the parents and infants had a room, the bigger kids were housed in a tent pitched in the lawn. The family enjoyed outdoors like rafting, kayaking riding and fishing in the day. The father conducted informal swimming and diving tutorials for the kids in the afternoon when the mother enjoyed a book by the pool-side. Evenings were lit up by clebrations beside a camp fire. The older kids always looked after the younger ones. Some other characters in view included a senior lady who kept sitting under a garden umbrella with a book in one hand and coke in the other, some Japanese students who were always brisk-walking across the resort and a local couple who mysteriously appeard by the pool-side after mid-day. To our surprise a swarm of Indans appeard at the pool on Sunday. Most of them were Gujju business familes from Kampala. The scene by the pool was transformed in minutes.Plump Ladies in Salwar kameezes, Sethjis chewing pan and tennaged boys doting Dhonisque hairstyle gave the place the semblance of a marketplace in Surat. For some strange reason all the tourists vanished into thin air.

During out three-day stay at Jinja we also visited the source of Nile and the Bujagali falls. Ganghiji's bust is the last thing one expected to find in Jinja. I quietly nodded my head when the knowledgeable Joseph explained to me that Mahatma Gandhi was an Indian President whose ashes were immersed in the Nile here. One gets tempted to try out bungee-jumping and river-rafting but took my wive's advice not to test the strength of my twice- injured spine. Uganda is one of the three countries in the world which has Mountain gorillas and the offers an opportunity of tracking gorrillas in their natural habitat. We however had very little time at hand as the wild-life in Kenya was awaiting us. In the evening of day 3 we boarded a bus for an overnight journey to Nairobi.

(Some snaps taken during this trip can be seen here)

to be continued ......

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Yogi and a Scientist who speak the same "Language"

Dr Mani Bhaumik and Sri Paramhansa Yogananda.... one a scientist and other a mystic.

It is common perception that science and spirituality are like two parallel lines with no apparent point of conjunction. I recently happened to read two books which reinforced my belief that these parallel lines do meet, possibly at infinity. It is only that one has to have the courage and faith to venture out and look for the place they call "infinity".

In Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda, he lucidly describes his spiritual odyssey and enlightens the reader on the miracles that could be achieved by mastering certain techniques of yoga and meditation. Though I found the account very captivating, I must admit to feeling sceptical while reading about certain aspects like astral travel and omnipresence of masters. All the doubts were put to rest by the time I finished the second book titled Code Name God by Dr Manilal Bhaumik (he was the scientist instrumental in the discovery of the Excimer Laser which is used for the LASIK eye surgery). The author uses established scientific facts to justify and almost establish the truth behind some aspects formerly construed as being part of ancient and transcendental wisdom.

Mukunda (Yoganandaji’s real name) was born into a pious and fairly wealthy family and was intuitively inclined towards mysticism. He didn’t care much for regular education and was focused on achieving spiritual discipline. He went on to become one of the most revered and globally accepted practitioners of Kriya Yoga and founded the Self Realization Fellowship in LA. Mani Bhaumik on the other hand was born into an extremely poor family. Food was such a scarce commodity that his grandmother starved herself to death to let her grandson live. His father was a freedom fighter and a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi. It is nothing short of a miracle that he grew to become one of the most eminent scientists of (rather from) free India. In the book he candidly confesses to his intimate flirtations with a life of opulence before returning to the life of a seeker. The similarities between the authors might not be apparent from their profiles. Both hail from Bengal, both had been raised in spiritual environments and both eventually established their respective empires against all odds in the USA. However, these are not the only parallels I am hinting at. There is more to it than that, though I doubt my ability to quantify it in words.

The intention of this post is not to delve into the personalities of these great men, but to share some derived lessons from both their biographies that can transform one’s perspective of both science and religion. More importantly they can help us lead a less complicated and fulfilling life.

1. Tune your mental frequencies to be in resonance with that of the universal mind to receive grace (this, I feel is the secret behind telepathy, omens and even prayer).

2. Have faith, especially in times of adversity. This would help unclutter the mind and quickly tune into the channel as mentioned above.

3. “One must be the change one wishes to see in the world”.

4. Meditate regularly and keep it simple to experience the exaltation of thoughtlessness.

5. Have the humility to accept that all one sees might not be true and everything believed to be true may actually be an illusion. Remember, Galileo had a tough time convincing people that Earth was round and it took some time for the world to accept that material and energy are substitutable even after Einstein proved his famous equation.

There are numerous other ideas contained in these books that are intellectually stimulating and spiritually enriching. I don’t intend giving them out here because of two reasons. Firstly, one has to read them in the context of the book to imbibe the spirit intended by the authors. Secondly, my knowledge of science is too rusty to be able to do justice to Dr Bhaumik’s book. So I have listed only those points which I found practicable and have decided to at least attempt cultivating.

For those who find these concepts too abstract for consumption, I recommend a read of these books as mere biographies without prejudice or judgment. I guarantee a change in outlook. For those who are compulsive pragmatists the books offer answers to an array of intriguing questions. Sample these:-

1. How does meditation lead to happiness?

2. When Bible says that the world was created by God in a day and Darwin postulates his theory of evolution, they mean the same thing. How?

3. Einstien mentioned of the Unified Field Theory and Lahiri Mahasaya spoke of the ubiquitous nature of divine spirit. Doesn't it sound similar?

I suppose that should be sufficient to generate curiosity.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bangus - a paradise awaiting demise?

"Fragile Paradise -Tourism plans threaten livelihoods and ecosystem in the Bangus plains."

When I read this headline caption in an article on the Frontline magazine, a strange emotion came over me. I happen to carry some beautiful memories of the time I spent in these serene "mountain plains", with a small and closely knit team of twenty energetic men.
I felt as if the gate to paradise, access to which until now had been restricted to a select few has been thrown open to all and sundry. Though I must confess to feeling oddly possessive, the main reason for my discomfort was knowledge of of the fact that the idyllic splendour of Bangus would soon give way to a tourist infested hot-spot.

Lokut Bangus ... as I saw it in October 2001.(This photograph was shot with a kodak point and shoot film camera).

It is near imossible to comprehend the Elysian uniqueness of this haven without having experienced it in person. I will however make an attempt to give a brief account of our stay there and the affect it had on us.

Our team was camping in a place called dudhi .... almost equidistant from the towns of Tangdhar, Kupwara and Handwara .. at an altitude of around 3200 metres. The only symbols of habitation there were a few "bahaks"or huts constructed with fallen deodhar logs, one of which served as our dwelling. Once... as we were sitting on a grassy spur casually studying the area from a map, we spotted a couple of elongated patches devoid of any contours. The fact that these plains were in high altitude, ignited my curiosity and we set out early morning the next day.

The first sight of bangus from an adjoining crest was breathtaking ..... the fatigue caused by three hours of climbing vanished in a moment.In front of us was a seemingly endless lush green valley ( a golfer's delight) ..... the gradient climbing gradually onto the neighbouring mountains. It seemed as if we were standing on the edge of a huge bowl ....the rim of which was marked by snow capped peaks and sides decorated with tall deodhar and pine trees.The gap between the tree line and snow was barren , giving the bowls a layered and organised look. The two major bowls in the area were called the Bod (big) Bangus and Lokud (small) Bangus. There was something in the air here, which made you forget your worries and captivate your consciosness. One has no option left, but to be in the present.

A few bahaks were lying dispersed .... one of which we saw was occupied. A teenaged sheperd was singing away in Kashmiri even while supervising the grazing cattle. During summers and the harvest seasons people from the neighbouring villages send their cattle to the mountains to graze, duly entrusted to a sheperd. Some families even moved lock-stock-barrel to their earmarked bahaks and went back to their village houses only in winters. It was amazing to see their self-sufficient livelihood and that their requirements were minimal even while residing so close to modern civilisation.

The fragility of both the ecology and economy in the area was obvious. Nature had ensured restricted entry, a few mountain passes being the only routes in . The government now plans to develop the area as a tourist destination. A road is being cut through the Neel Dori pass, the shortest route to handwara and a few hotel projects are in the pipeline. They are obviously blind to the fact that the beauty of the region lies in it's isolation. It is the solitude that one relishes here. I am not saying that tourists be kept away from the place ..... but only that let only those willing to lug their back-packs and trek a few miles be allowed in. An ideal solution.. don't you think? I hope Mr Azad is listening.

(There is another reason why I hold Bangus dear to my heart. It is in the adjoining forests that we lost one of our dear colleagues. Sandeep was merely twenty years old and full of zeal. I dedicate this post to his memory).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The National "Shashti Poorthi"

15th August 2007.We are celebrating the National "Shashti Purthi" today. Sixty years after India woke up as an Independent Nation, it is time to pause briefly and carry out a retrospective analysis, a mid-course correction before commencing the onward journey. Do we have enough reason to celebrate? Have we done enough to justify the idealistic dreams of our founding fathers? Some quick (not hasty) contemplation brought me the answers .... a modest "yes" and a resounding "NO".

Let us begin on a positive note. We have been able to sustain ourselves as a relatively stable democracy after having to dribble across potentially volatile situations on a regular basis. This is nothing short of a miraculous achievement. Secondly, our National economy has huffed and puffed its way towards respectability. These accomplishments seem substantial when surveyed from a distance. However, if functional governance and Gross National Happiness (GNH) are taken as indices, the picture might not turn out to be so rosy.

We are a nation of "high-potential individuals" suffering from an array of malignancies induced by "self-esteem deficiency" and an addiction to "self enforced mediocrity". Let us accept this fact with (more than) a pinch of salt, as acceptance is a pre-requisite to corrective action.

Where did we falter and what are the probable remedies? Is a quick clinical surgery the solution or should we go in for a prolonged treatment akin to the "full body cleansing" carried out in Ayurveda? I suggest the latter.

(I) We have almost criminally erred in the spheres of education, health-care and governance. Govenment funded schools and hospitals are grossly inadequate in terms of staff, funds and amenities. The state of our highways, power & water supply and civic services is just short of pathetic. Here are some suggested remedies:-

1. Eventhough there is no single solution for all these ailments, freedom from governmental control is a necessary medication. Where completely privatising basic services is not practicable, a balanced public-private partnership may be the answer.

2. Accountability of government servants has to be ensured. Certain strict parameters have to be set in each field and individuals/agencies made answerable for not meeting laid down standards.

3. Corruption has to be dealt with strictly and the offenders punished in public view. Corruption at the functional level does tremendous harm to the psyche of the common man as compared to institutionalised corruption at higher levels.

4. Government agencies/departments should have powers to summarily punish non-performers and give incentives to the worthy.

5. Officers need to be paid better..... atleast close to their counterparts in the private sector.There is no other way to maintain standars of calibre.

6. All departments must be provided good quality equipment as required by them to perform their tasks safely , efficiently and with dignity. (for eg. - all muncipal cleaners/ sweepers should have overalls, gum-boots and related kit; all schools should have requisite furniture, teaching aids, labs, hygienic toilets and most importantly qualified teachers).

(II) I am convinced that success in two essential areas can radically transform the energy levels in our country.Firstly, inculcating a strong value system in children through schools and social institutions. Secondly, inducing a positive work culture in our society. These are by no means simple tasks, but even if partially accomplished will serve as apt investment for the future of our country.We need to overcome our "chalta hai" attitude and learn to respect excellence. Every individual should take pride in his own work and try to be perfect in his domain.

(III) Obsession with "cost-cutting" (you may call it the "lowest-bidder syndrome") is a major cause of poor standards of equipment and services.

Imagine well turned out policemen efficiently managing traffic on a puddle-less eight-lane highway in your town .....imagine getting your passport within a week of filing the application, without having to "warm his pockets" .......imagine .. imagine .. imagine ....all of it is possible. Let us all stop cribbing till 15 August 2008 and do all that is supposed to be done by a good citizen... and not take our freedom for granted ..... next time an officer asks you for a bribe , don't crib your way back home with an empty wallet ... have the spunks to waste your time and take him to court.

There is definite reason for hope.....there is no dearth of patriotism in our countrymen and it is not that people don't feel mortified when climbing up a pothole on a National Highway or when confronted with a corrupt official while trying to acquire a driving license. It is only that we are often unable to wriggle out of our private realms.

Being an eternal optimist I have an intuitive feeling that the tipping-point is in the vicinity ..... the only factor lacking is leadership.We need a dynamic leader who can affect the conscience of the masses in a Gandhisque fashion .... and ignite a national revolution for change ... who merely has to stand up at the Red Fort and give out "do's and don'ts" for the Nation to follow blindly. Let us all pray hard to the Almighty to despatch HIM/HER forthwith... and even while waiting for him/her to descend, do all our duties as citizens of this great Country.....JAI HIND...

Listen to our Father of the Nation

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Lesson at the Shooting Range

There are certain experiences which if optimally exploited can evoke evolutionary changes in our lives. While some may push us into a zone of introspection, others may serve as self-edifying instructions. Certain others retain the humbling effect of having discovered the obvious by chance, after having laboured unsuccessfully for long.

I was on an official tour duty when I was informed of a competition being held to look out for talented shooters with the "10m air rifle" (an olympic event). Something prompted me to sign up. On the eve of the match all competitors reached the indoor shooting range where a coach showed us the rifles we would shoot with and gave us a detailed briefing about how to go about if one wished to do well. I was seeing these pneumatic rifles for the first time wherein one needed to manually compress the air in the cylinder before loading each pellet. I got a jolt on seeing the the target, which was of the size of a mini-postcard, the bulls eye (full scoring area) being of the size of a well sharpened pencil tip. After rehaearsing for a while the instructions received and after a few shots as practice, I got a hang of what the event would be like.

I was not much psyched up on the d-day ...."nothing much to loose anyway" was the frame of mind I was in. We were to shoot 40 pellets in an hour and a half. Even though we were allowed to see and analyse the target after each shot, I didn't think much of it and finished off without much thought about the results. To my surprise I did reasonably well and ended up with a bronze medal.

After a couple of months I was called up again for basic training in the event. All shooters now were of good standing .... the training was systematic ...... and to my surprise the check list before firing each shot was perhaps longer than that of a fighter pilot. From the tension level of each mucsle to the amount of air in the lungs ..... one needed to keep everything in mind while shooting. After a few days of reasonable progress my scores plummetted down to the bottom almost inexplicably and with it my self-confidence. I struggled on for weeks .... trying to do everything correctly .... but the pellets refused to reach that small dot in the middle. The seeds of self-doubt had sprouted and threatened to grow fast into a full grown plant. I was sliding into depression.

On the advice of a friend I kept off shooting for a while. During the break I analysed my shooting technique ..... I had learnt much after that competition but the scores refused to improve ..why? It was when I was travelling back in a bus from my uncle's house in mumbai that the answer struck ...... the difference was the "thought" in my mind at the micro-second when the trigger was pressed .... or rather when the pellet left the rifle. I remembered that in the first competition that I took part, I was never worried about the result and therefore concentrated completely on the procedure. Now, because of my anxiosness to hit the bull, my mind followed by the eyes reached the target before the pellet did ..... consequently the allignment of the sights got disturbed as the pellet left the rifle.......

I rushed back to the range .... while analysing the shots now, I realised that whenever my mind was in a thoughtless state as the trigger was pressed the shot never missed the bull ..... whenever the mind wandered, the shot got off the mark and when the focus was on the target it went further off the mark .....

On deeper thought one realises that this aspect is apllicable to all facets of life ... the anxiousness to hit the bull is nothing, but an offshoot of the fear of failure. Bekham would never have been able to bend it into the goal if he had been looking at the post instead of the ball as he kicked it .......... we wouldn't have been able to witness those glorious straight drives if Sachin had been looking at the boundary instead of the ball as he hits it ...........(did I carry it too far ?)

I didn't make much headway in shooting. However the lesson learnt keeps me in good stead in all my endeavours ........ as I concentrate on the process .. .and try to be indifferet to the results.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Seven years in Tibet (Tag)

I've been tagged for the first time by Nandu akka and I respond .....

Tibetans can claim to have arguably the worlds most mystic and unique culture which has remained veiled to outsiders and has been the subject of inquisition for many historians and adventurers.Today, even as vestiges of the distinctive Tibetan religion and traditions are being systematically erased on it's native soil, traces of it do survive elsewhere.

I have had the good fortune to have lived amongst these people and am fascinated by their religion, mysticism, manners, morals, superstitions, hospitality and their inherent abilities of tolerance and survival. That is the reason why I just couldn't place this book down once I laid my hands on it. "Seven Years in Tibet" is a book authored by Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer, and is an intriguing account of the time he spent as a fugitive in the mysterious land.

The Potala Palace - Ancient abode of the
Dalai Lama.

Harrer came to India as part of a German expedition to the Himalayan peak of "Nanga parbat" on the eve of the second world war only to be arrested and sent to a British internment camp in Dehradun. After three failed attempts he along with a few colleagues managed to sneak out and set out on a route towards Tibet that was never before attempted. After traveling along a circuitous route for two years he and his friend Aufschanaiter reached Lhasa, the capital city. One must remember that outsiders were not welcome in the country and that they neither had any papers nor any funds or resources. They learned the local tongue (I failed miserably in my attempt), did a lot of useful work for the government, won the hearts and minds of the people and lived in Tibet for seven long years.

A glimpse of the terrain on the Tibetan platue

Harrer's absorbing and vivid descriptions of the Tibetan religious customs, festivals and superstitions make riveting reading. Eventually he becomes the unofficial tutor to the teenaged God-king (The Dalai Lama) who had a deep desire to learn about western knowledge and the technological, political and social advancements made outside his protected land. Harrers's love affair with this unique land came to an end as the Chinese invaded it in 1950 forcing the Dalai Lama to take refuge in India.

Coming to the "responsibility" bestowed on me by this tag ..... here is the fourth (& last) paragraph on page no. 123 of the book ....(it speaks about the family of the god-king, His Holiness The Dalai Lama)

{The Great Parents had in all six children. The eldest son, long before the discovery of the Dalai Lama, had been recognised as the incarnation of Budha and invested with the dignity of a Lama in the monastery of Tagstel. He too was styled "Rimpoche", the form of address applied to all Lamas. The second son, Gyalpo Tondrup, was at a school in China. Our young acquaintance Lobsang was destined for a monastic life. The young Dalai Lama himself was now eleven years old. Besides his brothers he had two sisters. Subsequently the "Great Mother" gave birth to another "Incarnation", "Ngari Rimpoche". As the mother of three "Incarnations" she held the record for the Budhist world.}

The book has now been adapted into movie starring Brad Pitt, a copy of which I am fervently lo
oking for.

I am also supposed to tag five others .... here they go ...
(take it up only if you please....)

The rules of the tag, as handed down to me are:-

1. Give a refernce and link to the person who tagged you.
2. write about the book u've read recently and quote the 5th or last para of it's 123rd page.
3. Tag five others.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

A Cursed Continent ?

While setting foot on this land (Sudan), the only exposure I had to Africa was through movies like Born Free, God's Must be Crazy and Out of Africa, apart from some news articles and official presentations. Four months later I am not much wiser but have realised that it is almost impossible for an outsider to comprehend the complexities of this strife-torn continent. The good part however is that one does not require to "know all" to make a difference.

There are around fourteen countries in Africa which are experiencing internal conflict today. Ironically it is the abundance in resources, be it human resources, ivory, oil or diamonds that has turned out to be a curse as the developed and aspiring nations compete to get a foothold and stuff their already over-stuffed wallets at the cost of African "expendables". Every country that is involved here (peacekeeping / aid) and every single foreigner (whatever he/she may claim ) has a venal motive. However, it will not be prudent to place the complete blame on former colonialists or the contemporary hypocratic fortune- suckers (pardon the pun). The inherent tribal traits of the native populace and the unfavourable bias displayed by history bear a major share of the responsibility. Even though the situation in every country or rather every county is unique there are many common factors, the most prominent one being the history of this continent which has been largely deprived of civilisations and dominated by numerous stories of slavery and exploitation. The borders between countries had been drawn by european imperialists to divide their areas of influence without taking into consideration the ethnicity / tribal affiliations (the reason why most borders are in straight lines).

The energy level of children is one of the most striking aspects that I noticed here (in the midst of ruins and hostile faces). Generally, the child population (as a percentage of overall population) is much higher than one expects and thankfully their spirit is intact unlike the grown-ups. Even as the situation looks hopeless, there are a few instances which give room for hope. Let me narrate one such incident which occurred last week. There was this little boy, around thirteen years old who was standing by the main gate of our military camp. He was all in rags and looked harrassed, but there was a look of determination in his eyes which one couldn't miss. He didn't know any english and spoke a strange language (swahili perhaps), but managed to convey all that was required. He was from Somalia, another war torn country and was one of the millions of kids orphaned in the civil war. At a refugee camp, he heard from someone that Juba, the capital city of South Sudan offered good opportunities and may offer a route to Uganda or Kenya and decided to set forth. He travelled through Ethiopia and Sudan along the Blue Nile to reach Khartoum, ,obtained a "refugee certificate" from UNICEF and proceeded towards Juba. It was when all the money he possessed dried up that he stopped at the first gate he saw and asked for help. The distances invoved were great, the terrain perhaps the worst suited for travel and weather punishing. This little fellow had the spunk to travel hundreds of kilometers alone, without any sort of certainity regarding his future and hardly any resources, but just on the basis of hope .... for a better life. People like him make one feel grateful for all that one has been blessed with and ashamed of whining at the minor road blocks in life. He provides a silver lining in the midst of apparent chaos.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

"Guardian Angel" - story of a troubled mind

This is a poem which drew inspiration from a terrorist who was sincerely repenting being one, but was too deeply involved to be able to extricate himself into a peaceful life. He wishes and prays for a guardian angel to appear and guide him into happiness ...............

The blatant winds blew with all their might,
thunderous clouds roared for all the night.
Alone I sat and stared, for all i could
with a heart that was maim and numb, as it should.

My sins had crossed the threshold; when, I wonder?
bosom qualms were in search of a vent.
From the deepest crevice, deep and dark and under,
my teary eyes were full, crying for help.

And then she came as a cool and soothing breeze,
as if to purge me, off my wicked deeds.
Her smile could make an angel red with shame,
with her she brought the active winds of change.

Her touch, it did the wonders, foul is gone.
Eyes poured with compassion, for one and all.
She held my hand and led me out from the ditch,
unveiled a world, of calm and joy and grit.

And once my heart was filled with faith and trust,
she left my hand and flew, it was unjust.
The ambience of her scent was base enough,
to ride astride and realise what was left.

Yet I hope to see her once again,
the fossils of my past obliged in debt.
That she will come come for once; and come she will,
the time all fractured minds are put to rest.