In the sweltering heat of summer even at 6 a.m. the family set off to the nearest crematorium, appropriately called ,Antim Niwas—the final address—to collect the mortal remains of my brother-in-law.  A handful of bones and ashes  is all that remained of a healthy army man felled by the emperor of maladies — the invidious cancer that steals upon a body to conduct a secret warfare to attack it and render it lifeless.

As a rite of passage to the other world, Shantanu,the young Pujari , consecrated the Asthi  with chanting of mantras . The ashes were collected with an admixture of rose petals ,dry fruit and milk and placed in an earthen pot.His daughter and only child Anjali, was here from London to offer her Shraddhanjali to her beloved father.

The millennial connection with the holy Ganga persists uninterrupted  in our cultural and religious traditions . The  immersion of  ashes in the waters of River Ganges is symbolic of merging with  this life-giving force. Ganga Ma, revered as a mother,  takes the body back into her lap cleansing it of all its sins. This final submersion in water also brings full-circle the five elements that form our bodies. The body is consigned to the flames on the earth, when your breath becomes air, immersed in the waters of the holy river and it goes on to become part of the ether.

True to this tradition we set off in a car to the nearest spot from our area where Ganga flows ,though in reduced majesty. Garh Ganga in Uttar Pradesh is a bustling town, about 150 kilometres from Noida , with a well organised and bustling death-industry.

There seems to be fierce competition amongst the service providers to claim the ashes. Just short of reaching the place , you find you are being tailed by young mobike riding boys who want to hustle you into their motorised boat for the last ride for the deceased. Before the immersion yet another priest negotiates the charges to do a mini-puja. Clutching the earthen pot with the ashes we sit in the boat and go to the middle of the river . Finally there is a sense of calm and the contents are poured in and the clay pot is also lowered into the bosom of the holy river. Each of us confronts this personal encounter with  mortality with a huge sense of loss.

Before going back another ritual of feeding the hungry on the Ghat is to be completed. In no time you have a gaggle of urchins,old women , men and  sadhus materialise in front of the Halwai shop .Each one is given piping hot puris  topped with two laddoos. The urchins have fisticuffs grabbing the food and the money given as dakshina and still follow you to the car demanding more! Some of those being fed  surreptitiously throw the puris into the garbage. Since there is a constant flow of people coming to the Ghat, this is no surprise.

Since life and death walk hand in hand, the National Highway is studded with food points. Shiva Dhaba is the preferred name since Lord Shiva caught the Ganges in his tresses. Having satiated the soul of the departed, the families stop at the highway dhabas to satiate their own hunger. And quietly flows the Ganga seeing this eternal cycle of life and death!

 

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  Ushi Kak

We must admit that we have been in denial about India being a land of al fresco ablutions. Ostrich like we have ignored the perils of this uncouth and unacceptable practice. The dire need for toilets in the country has got a lot of heft from the Prime Minister taking up this issue from the ramparts of the Red Fort. The P.M.’s pot-shot at the toilet-deficit shows that building toilets is the key to not only the ‘Clean India’ mission but also a tool for women’s empowerment. One simple stroke of building toilets for girls will create a generation of young educated women who will not drop out of school because of a lack of separate toilets or toilets at all!

Na Mo’s campaign slogan of “Pehle shauchalaya, phir devalaya” was a trailer to this “Swaccha Bharat” campaign. An earlier Nirmal Bharat campaign had the same aim of removing this ‘Dirty Picture’ of our country by roping in a charming   Bollywood  diva, Vidya Balan, as the sanitation ambassador.

Bravo to a few daring women from mofussil towns, on their own, walked out on their husbands for lack of a toilet at home. These bold women threw the  gauntlet  to the  men– ‘No pot, no knot’ was their resolute cry! The grooms had to woo them back with a loo. These young women refused to co- habit with someone who believes that the call of nature has to be answered in the lap of nature.It may seem a peculiar matrimonial requirement but awesome in its impact. In a tiny district in M.P. the local administration conducts mass-marriages only for grooms who can give pictorial evidence of being in possession of a proper toilet at home. Apparently Haryana has also declared this as their strategy to keep India clean. The ‘bottom’ line is that these simple women are finally able to kick the male butt in the right direction—-that of the toilet!

Glorious tales of royal ‘Swayamvaras’ from our epics are etched on our minds. Lord Rama’s prowess in being the only suitor who could lift Shiva’s bow won him the hand of Sita. Arjuna had a more complicated conditionality to fulfill in order to marry Draupadi. He had to hit a moving fish-eye with a bow and arrow taking aim at its reflection in water. What these ordinary women in our rural hinterland are asking of the suitors is easy as pie compared to their royal sisters in days of yore. Men may have finally met their Waterloo, thanks to our rural sorority in insisting on the need for toilets at home.

Sulabh International, an NGO, renowned globally for its Sulabh Shauchalaya and other transformative social projects is walking the talk to spread this awareness. To add a piquant touch, Sulabh set up an international museum of toilets at Palam in Delhi which houses a collection of toilet seats from different eras. The museum has notched up the third slot recently in a tally of the weirdest museums of the world! Interestingly enough the museum has the replica of a throne- like toilet seat used by King Louis the XIV. He apparently held court unabashedly while sitting on the toilet.

Our dear old Bapu, the Father of the nation, insisted on the importance of clean toilets and cleaned them himself. We need to take a leaf out of Gandhi’s book. Rightly enough the government launched the ‘Clean India’ campaign on  Mahatama Gandhi’s birthday. The dream merchants of Bollywood have also pitched in with a film, ‘Toilet: Ek Prem Katha’ to spread the word.  An unromantic title like this would have been a box-office dud in days of yore. Not so anymore.So ‘gird up your loins'(pun intended) and keep your surroundings clean . By not being litter- bugs we have nothing to lose but the filth!

 

via Mother and Father — Curries without Worries

Ushi Kak

Trump may or may not build that infamous wall but there is a tangible Wall of Anger rising all across the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free. Alas! Now rechristened the Divided States of America. All right-thinking people are seething with a corrosive anger though the ‘alt-right’ Americans are hailing the Trump diktats. ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ is throwing in more toxic stuff in the cauldron to roil the witches brew further!As the Witches in Macbeth intoned, ‘Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair’.The writing on the wall is there for all to see but for the Numero Uno!
Building walls of the mind is far more dangerous than merely raising a brick and mortar wall. Mexicans have had a rich native Aztec cultural heritage. They have been reduced to a caricature as merely the Taco-Enchilada-Tortilla making culinary wizards. However‘Tex-Mex’ fusion cuisine tips the American hat to the Mexican sombrero. And can one ever have too much tequila?!Half a century ago the American Rock band Champs immortalized the Mexican national drink with the foot-tapping number ‘Too Much Tequila’– a Grammy award winner. A musical salute again to the tiny neighbour. Now we have a big bully with a stick threatening the ‘Bad Hombres’ to stay away. Instead of making America Great, all the dissonance and disruptions are making America grate on one’s nerves.
Politics has to rise above the art of the deal. Perhaps Trump needed to be an apprentice in a show on the art of diplomacy and governance. Braggadocio is not another word for competence!‘Realpolitik’ and ‘Real Estate’ are different kettles of fish. Alienating the media is not what McLuhan would have approved of. How intelligent are you if you question your own Intelligence agencies!

Walls have been erected all over the globe. Some have led to violence over competing claims as in the the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem.Trump’s wall may well become the wailing wall with trade barriers imposed on goods. Goodbye guacamole!
Way back in 1963 John F. Kennedy famously said at the notorious Checkpoint Charlie on the Berlin Wall, “ich bin ein Berliner”. He was displaying a global statesmanship and metaphorically demolishing the wall much before it came to pass.Surely Trump is not envious of the Great Wall of China?As long as the Trump towers keep rising high in all parts of the globe things are hunky-dory.Walls of Babylon and the Ishtar Gate are wonders of architecture.Such a grandiose vision doesn’t figure in Prez’s scheme of things. Perhaps he should heed the ovoid wall-sitting character Humpty Dumpty in the nursery rhyme from Lewis Carroll’s
delightful book, Alice in Wonderland . A fellow American, a pastoral poet from Amherst, wrote in a poem so presciently titled, ‘Mending Wall’:
………
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
…….

But then Robert Frost was not from the Wall Street!

                                                   Black Swan Syndrome

                                                               Ushi Kak

Please note, it seems to be open season for global shock and awe! Britain severing its nuptial bond with EU sent more than ripples around the globe. Brexit was not the outcome expected by most—least of all by David Cameron. It was a black swan moment that turned out to be Cameron’s swan song. Looks as if everyone read the tea-leaves wrong—despite the Brit love for chai!

Close on the heels of Brexit shock came the seismic American Presidential election results turning the U.S of A into the Divided States of America. Contrary to sure shot predictions, the voters pilloried Hillary instead of dumping Trump! This left a large swathe of Americans   gobsmacked in utter disbelief. Political pundits and analysts had to eat humble pie  after their oracle like divination about the end result in the race to the White House proved to be a dud.

Brexit referendum and the Yank election opera played out in full view of the public, rising to a crescendo over a period. Closer home in Hindustan we had a different script crafted in stealth and shrouded in total secrecy. The demon of demonetisation came as a bolt from the blue(or black ,should I say?). It was an ‘Aakashvani’ in more ways than one. Namo thundered ‘no-mo’! No more of black money that is. This sent the black sheep bleating in misery and scurrying for cover and the taxmen on a mission to uncover the hidden dirty money. There were certainly more than three bags full to mop up for the overworked bank officials. This ‘surgical strike’ ( a phrase currently in fashion) on currency is supposed to suck out black money, put brakes on fake notes and cut asunder the terror-black money nexus. This is Modi’s ‘modis operandi ‘(no misspelling there!) to take us a step closer towards Digital India and a cashless society. The rub in the ointment is that in this bloodbath the much touted aam aadmi has been rendered totally                                                         cashless. ‘Note bandi’ may be less painful than ‘nas bandi’ but you have to put your money where your mouth is. With the cash crunch that isn’t easy. But as they say in India—worry not!

J-tech (jugaad technology for the uninitiated) operators  have razor sharp minds and can work around any road bumps. Apart from Kala Dhan being made ‘fair and lovely’ through innovative bypasses there is already hoarding of moolah being done in the new high denomination notes. The middlemen from the parallel Dalal street seem to have a lot  more street-cred than the  regular guys.That is the way the cookie crumbles! Having smelt an opportunity to make a killing they must be singing the popular Bollywood song with gusto–-Aao sade naal tusi aish karoge, zindagi ke saar mazay cash karoge!



			

 IPL vs BPL 

        Ushi Kak

For a nation that eats cricket, sleeps cricket and dreams cricket, this ‘match-fixing’ between an IPL team and a BPL team is bound to raise not just eyebrows but howls of protest. Being such a high-voltage sports spectacle with ‘high-vaultage’ monetary returns, IPL doesn’t need an introduction. In fact, now everyone wants a piece of the IPL cake by replicating it in their countries. But BPL is a grossly ignored, almost invisible, league. The abbreviation BPL stands for the Beleaguered People’s League.

Though IPL T20 is a new kid on the block, we all know with our 20/20 hindsight that BPL has been a shadow companion for long. Before the legions of cricket junkies start baying for my blood to have the temerity to denigrate the great game by pitting Gulliver against a mere Lilliput, let me put in a disclaimer here to assuage their wrath. This is a fictive scenario of a match between IPL and BPL. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

With due apologies to Salman Rushdie, the progenitor of magical realism and the darling of Lit-fests till recently.

The Mighty Daredevils and the Puny Baredevils are in the fray .The former team seems full of machismo; the latter looks lacklustre. The MD team members have the names of their sponsors emblazoned on their jerseys, bats, caps or whatever surface available. The ‘body language’ of the team is pure ‘dabangg’. On the contrary, in sync with their physique the Puny Baredevils are attired in an apology for a uniform. The PB faces wear a hollow look, as if to say, that the only fabric they have is the warp and weft of life—if that!

The skipper of the MD team comes on to the pitch dripping with self-assurance. The PB captain, as opposed to Captain Cool, gingerly steps on the field. The Mighty Daredevils captain wins the toss and decides to bat first. He struts past the PB captain and mutters something under his breath. Sledging is par for the course or the wicket one should say, except when you get on a sticky wicket using ‘desi’ cuss-words on aggro foreign players a la the turbanator Harbhajan Singh. That was a script tailor-made for a sports film─ “Bhajji on the Field”—no sequel to the movie “Bhaji on the Beach” I am afraid. Though one must acknowledge that the feisty Zohra Sehgal, who acts in this movie, was capable of scoring a century on the field and off it. She nearly did!

Team MD has attractive cheerleaders rooting for their star-studded team, going into an acrobatic routine whenever the ball goes careening across the boundary. Team PB has only Cheer-less leaders and a gaggle of unkempt supporters clanging their empty tin cans. No wonder the question uppermost in everyone’s mind is, ‘What is a BPL team doing in a ‘feel good’ show like IPL?’ BPL is a tear-jerker. It shows you the visage of deprivation. Who wants to hobnob with losers?  IPL is an adrenaline pumping station with all its attendant hoopla whereas BPL reminds you of the dregs of life. In this age of ‘laughathons’ and similar fare, no one has the stomach for sob stories any more

The match between these two teams, the brainchild of the Department of Social Justice, is fixed to bring a burning issue to the front burner. Though the Mighty Daredevils trounce the Puny Baredevils, the underdogs do deserve support and a leg-up not a leg before wicket. Perhaps the distress of the BPL team and the alacrity of the umpire to raise the finger on the players will rouse the slumbering goodness in people for a fairer set of rules. The Mighty Daredevils, as expected, amass a massive score and outclass the Puny Baredevils in all departments of the game. The PB’s despite taking the bouncers on the chin are able to muster up a total of only 32 runs. Sorry folks, no ‘Lagaan’ like twist in this tale.  The underdogs need to be ‘beefed up’ to fight another day!

A-31,   Sector 21, NOIDA 201301;                              Mobile; 9910660784

                                                           Ushi Kak

Hold your breath and breathe out. With a global high-five, 21 June has been officially anointed as the International Yoga Day. Having somersaulted over the summer solstice ( Times Square tribute notwithstanding), it has made a yogic leap over mundane and saccharine sweet days like the Mother’s Day. It certainly has taken the sheen off the robust Father’s Day because of the clashing date. The suffering gents, as usual,have been put on the mat!

With an imprimatur from the United Nations International Yoga Day has made a blockbuster debut around the world. Look at its sheer stretch— Mountain yoga on the icy heights of Siachin, yoga on water in holy Varanasi, boat -yoga in Paris on the famed bateau-mouche and sea -yoga on the imposing INS Virat. The Air Force, of course, has been doing a kind of aerial yoga for years with its pilots doing loops, barrel rolls and spins in aerobatics with the concentration of a yogi. Picture post-card venues popped up from far and near on IYD— yoga under the iconic Eiffel Tower, yoga in the famous Angkor Vat temple, yoga by the Thames, yoga in Beijing and yoga in the Rann of Kutch. Even an impromptu Flash Mob yoga in a mall gave it a hip touch.

With India as the lead choreographer, IYD has a brand new identity. From the low-key DIY (Do it yourself) practice to the razzmatazz of IYD, Yoga has muscled its way to the global marquee with no ‘asanas’ barred. With a commemorative stamp and coins to boot it is trending hugely.

Always associated with the mystic East, it did create a buzz earlier too in the sixties with Beatles hotfooting to Rishikesh with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of TM (transcendental meditation) fame. The New Age gurus added a dash of zing to it. Despite its provenance dating back to the pre-Vedic period ,some want to claim a GI (Geographical Indication) copyright for yoga. The apprehension of the hidden dragon posing a Qigong challenge, a similar healing technique, has roused the crouching tiger to take a leap. Other wanna-bees of Indian soft power—like the Sari and suchlike, with their impeccable desi credentials could also be clamouring for international recognition of such magnitude. Shaina N.C. wake up and smell the roses or rather drape the Sari around the world!

What got the world really gob smacked was the massive yoga demo at Rajpath . It was a grand spectacle where the customary ‘gun-salute’ was replacedwith the ‘sun-salute’. With a record-breaking mass of nearly 36,000 yoga practitioners on their individual mats and nationals from 197 countries, India made it to the Guinness World Records twice over. The choice of politicos to lead the yoga sessions at regional venues was a masterstroke. Well-versed in bending over backwards and capable of twists and turns in any situation, most asanas would be a cakewalk for them. As for the ‘Surya-Namaskar’, the worship of the rising ‘sun’ is a given in their repertoire of convoluted postures and posturing.

Despite warnings against the commodification (no pun intended!) of this knowledge system, one can see the glint in the eye of those who think this could be a marketing bonanza for yoga merchandise in India. Yoga studios, yoga mats, yoga Tee’s and pants have been money spinners in America for decades. Now with the pop T.V. Guru, Baba Ramdev as the brand ambassador for Yoga in India, we can all bend it like Baba. With the ‘leg up’ that it has got through the U.N.endorsement and an Indian Ministry of Yoga,one can say that yoga can look forward to ‘acche din’ now!

Ushi Kak
Churchill’s churlish comment calling Gandhi a ‘half-naked fakir’ remains distasteful to date. It is deliciously ironical that a dhoti-clad under-dressed leader made the over-clad mighty British Empire eat crow. Gandhi became a global icon, notwithstanding the proverb that ‘clothes make the man’.His sartorial choice of dressing like a common man was a master-stroke in creating an instant connect with millions of Indians. That is what one could truly call power-dressing!
Indian leaders over the years have understood the power of the symbol. Nehru, a darling of the masses, despite his elite lineage shed his former grandiose western attire. He became a global desi with his achkan and churidar and the Gandhi cap. Nehru’s bandh gala jacket was a fashion statement globally.Mao joined the high table of political power dressing with his army-type Mao jacket —an early instance of Sino-Indian rivalry even in power-dressing. The Nehru jacket continues to make waves even now as the jacket with the mandarin collar— a happy resolution!
Modi set the ball rolling for the political ramp-show on his campaign trail in his immaculate half-sleeved kurtas further embellished by vibrantly coloured waistcoats. It was a political statement—no need to roll up the sleeves to get cracking. He was on his marks and ready to hit the ground running! More so, it became a trending fashion statement.
A sneak preview of Modi’s sartorial skills was showcased at the BRIC summit.His dapper ‘bandh-gala’ suits with an ‘open-throated’ espousal of India’s development put him robustly on a global stage.The U.S. trip burnished his image further with a Rock Star platform at the Madison Square Garden.By now the Force was with him. One could almost visualise the NRI’s doing a lungi dance to the tune of Chak de India in Times Square!
No wonder at the famous breakfast meeting with Obama back home, clad in a monogrammed suit it was stylish swag with swagger. Offended by the Fendi-like price tag of the suit the Indian tongues clucked in disapproval. Though the auctioning of the suit for charity muted the negative buzz. And now the Modi shawl worn in Paris is going viral. Watch out Louis Vuitton , we are promoting ‘Make in India’!
The Goliath of Delhi also uses his trademark muffler and casual attire to be one with the aam aadmi.The Muffler Man of AAP may not be modish but he certainly has a winning strategy in his dressing style in sync with the common man. Bonding with PLU’s,(people like us) always creates a comfort zone. Aam aadmi too wants LLU’s–leaders like us.Hence the perfect fit for Kejriwal.
Indian leaders have given us a gallery of attires with regional and ethnic touches. From the rustic to the exotic we have it all–from head-turning headgear in glorious colours and shapes to the simplicity of a dhoti kurta or the beauty of the handloom Sari.You could truly say–Fab India in more ways than one!

A happy coincidence that I am a Kashmiri Pandit from the valley and I go to town on puns— hence the title of my Blog: Kashpundit — spelt with a ‘u’ ! The reason I chose to ride on WordPress was that it is in sync with my passion for words and writing. Juvenal said a long time ago that ‘Writing is the incurable itch that possesses many’ . Truly said!