Thursday, September 27, 2012

India of My Heart

An Ancient Memory--Ruminations before a lunar eclipse

A long time ago, a really long, long time ago, when my ancestors lived in caves and hunted and gathered to feed themselves, they probably counted the passing of time by following the waxing and waning of the mysterious moon.

I imagine a wise woman of my clan, sitting outside the cave one evening, waiting for the beautiful full moon that she knows will rise.  She has, over a period of years, figured out that it is lovely to watch the glow of the full moon on the rugged terrain around the cave in which she dwells with her man and her children and a scattering of elders.  That is one night when the air feels cooler, the spirit somehow soars, and the lapping of the distant waters turns to a majestic roar. Like me today, she too probably found the full moon enchanting then, long, long ago.

As she waited in anticipation of the mysterious magic that the full moon wrought upon her, one evening, something happened that was bewildering and disturbing all at once.  Whereas that should have been the evening of a light that glowed silver, twilight deepened into darkness.  That was not all.  Wolves and deer barked and wandered too close to the caves, uneasy in their habitual haven of the thick woods. Birds that ought to have quietly rested got agitated. 

What was going on?

My ancestor, wise as she was, observant as she was, wasn’t to know that it was an astronomical phenomenon that we call an eclipse.

I hope she had the courage to sneak out of the cave and take a look at the sky as light slowly began to seep down from the heavens above.
I wonder if she lived long enough to observe many such eclipses.  After all, how long did people live those days, and how did they record their observations of exceptional natural events?  How many people might even have been bothered to pay any attention to those events?

It is possible that on the morning following, an elder in my community died. Or a woman gave birth prematurely.  Or a herd of elephants ransacked a nearby dwelling.

Any mishap could have easily seemed—to anyone endowed with imagination and curiosity—like the effect of the unusual behavior of the moon the night before. Not right then and there, but perhaps my ancestor and her clan began to refer to the death of that ancestor (say) as having occurred when the moon grew dark, and may be, because the moon grew dark.

You know where I am headed with this story of my ancestor.

All superstition was and is an ingenious hypothesis of cause and effect.  Once science—through repeated observation or experimental verification—proves or disproves the hypothesis, you have a rule. Once you have a rule, you can predict things.

Today, with our calculations of the movement of heavenly bodies, we can predict that we shall witness a lunar eclipse for a few hours in Mysore on 4 April 2015.

I have come a long way away from that ancestor of mine.  I am not going to hide in my cave, I am not going to fast when the moon is invisible, and I am not going to bathe at the end of the eclipse. I am not going to imagine that a snake swallowed the moon.

I plan to enjoy the sweet air of the April evening and watch the magic of the celestial phenomenon. And, who knows, on the 5th of April I could break a bone or gain a windfall in the stock market, as could a thousand others who didn’t even know that there was a Lunar Eclipse.

In Gujarat, a long time ago

The other day, a cousin’s husband, someone I have liked from the first time we met, which was a good 50 years or more ago, went for a walk with me.  It was a beautiful morning in Mysore, dry and crisp with a light layer of chill on our skin before the sun came out.  We were chatting about this and that, but I wanted to him to pick up from where he left off the previous evening, when he was telling me about his encounters with loan defaulters in different parts of India. 

This gentleman is a retired bank official, who had often been in charge of inspecting far flung branches of the bank he had worked for.

Once he was in Gujarat, near Porbandar (where Gandhi was born), on a tour of inspection duty. The manager of the bank had many outstanding loans to collect, and one was from a particularly tricky but prosperous customer, who had proved to be a tough wall of resistance, yielding nothing regardless of official pressure.

As part of the inspection duty, my borther-in-law (cousin-in-law?) always included visits to enterprises and establishments that had borrowed from the bank.  When he and a couple of bank staff arrived at the big time defaulter’s farm, he was impressed by the obvious prosperity of the home, the fields, and the physical stature of the man himself. 

Dressed in the local style, wearing pants that are loose at the top half and cling to the calf, topped with a short white shirt fastened on the side with string, the man cut an impressive figure in a turban wound in sleek rolls of cotton. A nicely oiled mustache curled jauntily at the tips made a fine picture, as he welcomed the entourage of bank employees to his home.

Gujarati men in their traditional wear

Following custom, the farmer called out to his wife, who appeared within minutes with her head draped in the top part of her flowing colorful sari. 

Gujarati woman

She put down a large tray with tall metal tumblers brimming full of frothy milk.  The farmer himself picked up the tray and offered the first drink of milk to my brother-in-law.

“Thank you for this, but I have to decline your hospitality,” my brother-in-law said, explaining that their relationship just then was not that of equals. “You seem to be doing well,” he said, observing that as a banker he was gratified to see the loan put to good use. That being the case, my brother-in-law said, he was at a loss to understand why the repayment of the loan was taking so long.

The proud farmer was clearly taken aback that the simple and familiar customary offer of a drink of milk had been turned down, and perhaps rattled by the straight talk he hadn't quite expected
“There are always emergencies and urgent need for money,” he said. 

He proceeded – as one might do in such a situation  –that he wasn’t one to hang on to money that wasn’t his, and so on.

My brother-in-law gently intervened and said that unless he repaid the loan, other, poorer farmers couldn’t have the benefit of a bank loan. Giving a loan to people who deserved it and were eligible was the bank’s job, he explained, and before he finished, the farmer summoned his wife again.

This time she reappeared with a bundle of yellow cloth, which she placed by his side. He undid the secure knots and took out neat wads of currency notes that added up to the exact amount of the loan due to be repaid.

“Here it is,” the farmer offered the cash to my brother-in-law and asked, “Now are we equals?”  

This is just one of the stories from this fine gentleman’s working life that I really like. He has a way of recounting things of this nature: he doesn't preface his stories with "that reminds me of a time when" or "talking of this or that..., once it so happened," and the like. When he begins, you haven’t got a clue as to where the opening bits might go, and you even think briefly that what is coming is a non sequitur,  but with his swift sketches of places and people, he plunges into the plot. His keen sense of observation and his crisp style convey his well-preserved memories with charming simplicity. Speaking for myself, I enjoy hearing stories people have carried around for a long time, particularly when such stories tell me of places and people I don't know. 

(photos are from

Seeking Knowledge 1

Kena Upanishad: Learning requires rigor in language use, discipline built around time, and ordered actions

As I continue my reading of the Upanishads (in Swami Nikhilananda’s translation), I find much of it is about learning and acquiring knowledge.

One little verse in the Kena Upanishad said that the learner must know the correct pronunciation, the grammatical usage convention, the etymology, and the stylistic import of every word in the verses of the Vedas, in addition to knowing astronomy and ritual. This is necessary for any student to acquire knowledge of the Vedas.

The first part about language stunned me in the clear categorization of elements that make up the semantic accuracy of a word. Why astronomy, I wondered for a while, until I figured out that the calendar is based on astronomy, and unlike today, when you and I have access to technology  to check a calendar from centuries ago or centuries ahead, then it was the trained individual who probably calculated dates for events to be planned forward, while determining with precision when a similar event occurred in the past. After all, regular repetition of actions and events to mark important moments in life is one function of a ritual, and what  would rituals be without a calendar?

Students need academic calendars, without which “rituals” of tests, examinations, and graduation cannot be planned.

I am reading the Upanishads now, as if to transform the quality of my experiential knowledge of teaching—accumulated, I might add, mainly through my years as a pupil and student, and subsequently through the extraordinary spell as a high school teacher. Anecdotal memories now appear to be compressing themselves into concepts.

There is a beautiful prayer I came across in the Upanishads—this prayer or chant occurs at the conclusion of a learning session, at which the teacher and the pupil ask (among other things) that they never have a falling out, now that they are beginning a new period of exploring knowledge together in their evolving mutual dependence as seekers of knowledge. 

I loved that.

Reading Nikhilananda

Kena Upanishad -- which I have only just begun to read --appears to deal with the path of reason and the path of refined intuition in some detail, and consequently has much to say about the manifested soul's liberation.

In what context and how I can't say, but something in what I read gives me a distinct feeling that all eternity for our individual lives is right here, now, and truly each second is our eternity. What I mean by this can by no means find a clear explanation in words that I know at this time.

5 Dec 2013

Tie-dye in India

At an exhibition-cum-sale (Nov 2013) of cotton fabrics from different parts of India, I got lucky. Several of the entrepreneurs there willingly described what made their material special, sometimes giving me a quick background history of their region where a certain tradition of weaving or dyeing has existed for centuries. One of them, Sushma, from Gujarat, spent a good deal of time explaining many aspects of the beautiful tie-dye fabrics she had on display.

I was able to make a few video clips as Sushma spoke. My grateful thanks to her for spending time talking to me when customers vied for her attention.

Sushma at her stall

3 short video clips for you.

I have added a few stills for an idea.

Visit to Belur in Karnataka

Two short videos of people who make a living at the Belur temple site.

Rebirth, a metaphor

I must have been very, very young when I learned about the idea of rebirth. For decades I accepted it. When I began to wonder about the mystical and metaphysical aspects of that concept, I figured that it was a Vedic concept that Hindus in general accept for reasons of their own; belief in heaven and hell, belief in a god, and other such faith-based beliefs don’t have a place in my tool-kit for understanding life.

It occurs to me strongly that the concept of rebirth actually works for me now if it is perceived as a metaphor.

The ancient Vedic scriptures say that after death,  (I am going to greatly simplify things) those who have lived a life of devotion (to the infinite Self) attain final liberation; those who have done good deeds and lived a meritorious life (but are not disengaged from material existence), attain limited liberation and return to mortal life in a new birth. Then there are those whose life is limited to sensual gratification, who are reborn without a glimpse of liberation.

The second and third categories of people still have a chance to merge with the infinite Self by seeking knowledge in their new births.

This thesis has been difficult for me to accept and yet without it, the marvelous Vedic ideas about life, seem shaky. For example, what’s the point of seeking knowledge (by intuition, by intellect, by spiritual experience) through which alone one arrives at a state of bliss, if at the end there is just death as void, or worse still, there’s no difference in what happens (after death) to you and me from that thief awaiting trial?

Okay, this is what suggests itself to me: we have to assume that bliss and liberation are available here. It is available to those of us who have gained the wisdom through knowledge to refrain from dwelling on the what-might-have- beens, from  helplessly repeating follies (knowing that we are committing follies), and weighing ourselves down with our unchangeable past.  For such people, there is no rebirth, which to me means:  such people do not regress into their less refined selves through lack of logic or lack of faith.

Consequently, those who have the knowledge but are disposed to linger in the past can be said to have rebirths, in the sense that they live through the complexities and confusions of things that have once been, needlessly regressing to a less refined self. The good thing is that these people do experience the lightness of being from time to time, when their knowledge reveals to them the burdensome nature of the past.

Finally, those with little knowledge repeat habitual actions, having experienced comfort or gratification in something, and limiting themselves. These people have no opportunity to experience liberation from the need for familiar gratification. They constantly return to a primal self, thus forever being “reborn” to live in the crass material world, losing the potential for growth and maturity, and eventual wisdom.

There it is, then, my take on the concept of “rebirth” as Hindus have it.

5 Nov 2013

An Artist

Among our cousins and their families are eminent people, who have served in the Government of India, the Indian Army, risen to high positions in large banks, taught at major universities in India and abroad, run businesses, and gained renown as doctors and surgeons.  We have engineers and teachers aplenty, bureaucrats and entrepreneurs.

When it comes to artists, I can think of only one person.

My mother’s sister’s first son, Jayaraman was an insurance salesman by the working weekday, and an artist by every moment he could find. No one who is an artist chooses to be an insurance salesman, that much even I know. Life imposes restrictions and constraints, and he began to bring home a paycheck while he was still young in order to ensure an education and a secure home life for his younger siblings.

He was an individualist. As a responsible eldest son of a large family, he did a good amount of housework. My mother has told us that he was a good cook even as a teenager, something that impressed me when I was young. He went to college, earned a degree, got himself a secure job in an insurance company, but all the time he painted. He didn’t have that much space in which to work, nor did he have the money to spend freely on art supplies. Yet, by the time he was in his forties, he was exhibiting his work, having gained recognition in the circle of avant-garde artists in what was then called Madras (now Chennai).

Of course what he painted interested virtually no one in his extended family, and I have heard it said that “our Jayaraman keeps painting hands and hands and more hands, God knows for what.”  I haven’t seen his work to speak of, but I did once go to the Madras Museum because he told me that one of his paintings was on display there. I can’t recall anything about it except that it was abstract. People closest to him rued that he did not paint portraits and landscapes that “made sense”, sagely observing that he was wasting his talent.

But then Jayaraman wandered around dressed in baggy long Indian shirts and trousers, wore his facial hair untamed, never attended to dental needs, losing a canine or two to make his smile memorable,  smoked beedies probably because they smell more leafy and nicely mask the sweet smoke of things that aid fantasy and visions, dabbled seriously in astrology, smeared the red powder of religious affiliation on his forehead, and read like a maniac. He died before he was an old man – speeding to his end with a life of hardship and sacrifice, intense living, and  choosing to experience life in the raw as artists are wont to do.

What did he paint and who has his works now?

Our Cousins

The other day Mohan and I went to Chennai to participate in a party to celebrate a cousin’s long life, traditionally observed when the individual has “seen” 1008 lunar months. This occurs after 80 years of one’s life.

Our extended family is healthy and continues to be closely knit. Many generations mingled at this party, and from many parts of India as well as the world.

Last year, around this time, I was at another cousin’s 50th wedding anniversary, and there, too, I was struck by how many of my cousins had gathered.  My sister in Chennai organizes at least one luncheon every year to bring as many of our cousins together as possible—this year she did that in August, as a housewarming party at their new flat.

I have not seen one of my cousins in nearly fifty years, and I wish I could meet her before time downs the curtain. She lives in Calcutta.   A gentle and shy person as I remember her, she is quite a bit older than I, and has lived a life of utter devotion to her family. I shall not go into the significant details  (which is all I know now) of dear Seetha’s family that make her devotion so remarkable, but let me just say that as I age, I grow to admire her more and more.

Seetha is one of my many cousins on my father’s side. Dad had 5 sisters and one brother. No one of that generation is alive as I write this.

I have known and interacted with each one of the children of my father’s six siblings and my mother’s two.  I marvel that in one way or another, directly or indirectly, we (my sisters and brother) have a general idea of who is where among those cousins, alas, not all of whom are living.

We lost Meera when she was only in her teens, as we were then as well. We lost Murthy who was a father of four. Krishnan’s tragic death left us numb, as we used to see a lot of him around the time of his fatal road accident, at which time he was a young married man with a small child and a very young wife, who was expecting their second baby. Time marches on and older cousins have departed…

What’s special, I think, is our close relationship with the spouses of many of our cousins. Thanks to that closeness, we have lively acquaintances with many of their children, some of whom are in fact closer in age to us.

Is this anything of a story? For me it is, because I am in a pool of feelings and memories of times far and near, surrounded by the tender waves of love I have received and continue to receive from so many of the people I got to remember thanks to my cousin Kalyanam, who is on to his 1009th lunar month. May he have many more.

Here's a photo of Kalyanam, his wife (we address her as "manni", a kinship term), Mohan, and me. 

Traditions live with Savithri

My sister's muthal-aarathi (this is a word in Tamizh) or the free-hand motif on a plate --outlines are made of thick rice batter rolled into beads, and the filling is turmeric, kumkum powder, and other decorative color powders. 

She has made a motif every year to celebrate Dashera for as long as i can remember, which is over 50 years. We learned  this from our mother. 

This year, skype technology gave me a chance to see it at her Chennai home from Dacha, and take a snapshot.

Thank you, Savithri, my big sister.

Learning new things

you are the best person with whom to share my thoughts as i begin to learn a bit about the ancient wisdom of India.

some months ago i got interested and read the Bhagavad Gita in two translations with commentaries, and that opened my eyes to the depth and power of some of the ideas it develops about life as we know it.

then i set out to read the Life of Ramakrishna written by Christopher Isherwood on a friend's recommendation. to do this, i used to go to the Ramakrishna Mission library, and spend an hour or so weekly. i could have tried to enroll as a member and borrowed the book but reading it slowly there on a regular schedule made it more sustained for me.

once that was done (and i hugely enjoyed it, besides learning a good deal about mysticism as experienced by people raised in the hindu faith), i began to feel the need to acquaint myself with the Upanishads, a collection of abstract philosphical contemplations.

yesterday was my second time at this task--i am reading Nikhilananda's work, a 4 vol treatise, and i am hardly into the first chapter, as the intro required much focus.

getting into it (even at this early stage) is like returning to school at a time when that's something i can enjoy.

so far, this is what i have managed to get:

the "hindu" philosophical works, the Vedas (4 of them) were orally handed down in chants for centuries. the Upanishads tended to be the fourth part of each Veda or the extension of the 3rd part. Part one was Mantra (chants to propitiate gods), Part 2 Brahman (rituals that go with the chants and the meaning/significance of Mantra), Part 3 Aranyaka (the verses and chants for "retirees" from banal everyday lives).

understanding our existence was to go past the knowledge gained from Aranyaka and reach the truth of Upanishads, which was sometimes part 4 of the Veda or an extension of Aranyaka or part 3.

Upanishads gave you an opening to understand the unity of the material self and the infinite self.

this understanding comes not only by intellectual learning but also by experiential learning; more even than those ways, this understanding requires heightened intuition of the seeker after truth.

from what i have gleaned, the Upanishads open the truth of the eternal nature of the absolute. everything we name and experience as form is impermanent, say the ancients in the Upanishads.

please help me, those of you who pass through here, and tell me of things you know, things that you can refine for me.


Indirectly, as a result of reading the Bhagavad Gita, I am now freed of a label.

I can now confidently assert what I have always wanted to say. I have no religious affiliation. I am not a Hindu.

Through my entire life until the past few days I had thought that one was a Hindu by being born to Hindu parents, and there was no way to disown that identity except by entering another religious community through formal conversion.

Since I have no interest in any religious identity, conversion never entered my mind.

 I don’t think that there is a Hindu religion, as such.

The Gita, for example, has no word to describe the community of people who adhered to the belief system that emerged out of the Vedas. In fact, the Gita does not even speak of a religion, to the extent that I can see.

So who came up with the term “Hindu” to describe a huge population disparate by custom and geography,  yet homogeneous by a belief system?

Most likely, invaders and conquerors began to identify the population of the India they encountered beyond the river Sind as “Hindu”.

There is no Hindu religion as such as far as I am concerned. There are many sects and cults that share some aspects of the belief system drawn from the Vedas, and the invader’s term “Hindu” has come to be a convenient umbrella term to link these many strands.


I have no religion. I am definitely not a Hindu.

India of My Heart 1

When I am at a classical music concert in Mysore, especially when I am in V.V.Mohalla during the Ganesha festival related series of concerts by outstanding exponents of Indian classical music, some aspects of what makes India tick come through, at least for me.

This  much anticipated festival is held outdoors, the covered seating area and the dais for the artists blocking off a small street. The small businesses continue to  remain open to their customers. At one end of that street is a popular mysore-style restaurant. There are small electrical repair shops, a  very small general store, a funky gelato place with pricy delights, including sugar-free daily specials, and so on. During the seven-day festival, there’s special lighting, which of course goes off, when the state electricity board isn’t able to handle the load, and then noisy generators kick in. the musicians don’t mind, and wait out the unpredictable and unexpected breaks.

There are mosquitoes, and I seem to be in a small minority of people with my insect repellant. The audience is made up of older people for the most part, women in saris and men in indianised western clothing.  There is always a small sprinkling of young people—some must be students of classical Indian music, that’s for sure—and I believe there are also some who are there only to enjoy the live concert.  Parents and grandparents bring young children, who sometimes get restive but are soon soothed by their accompanying adults into deep sleep.

People casually walk in throughout the performance, but leave in the middle only when a piece has ended. This is absolutely accepted as a tradition. Nearly everyone tends to know or recognize someone in the audience, because Mysore is a small  place.

The music one gets to hear is outstanding, day after day, year after year. This festival provides high quality live performances without formal speeches, the pomp of garlanding and this and that, keeping the gracious welcome given to the artists unpretentious and entirely appropriate.

Yesterday, at some point, a small dog ran right by the audience in the front row.  The power failed once or twice. One child had a small crying fit.

Nothing got in the way of the beautiful concert – Ravikiran played in his masterful  style on the “Gottu Vadhyam”, now called Chitra Veena. (That was on 26 Sept 2012)

Some things in life are free. Some things in India are deeply satisfying.

India of My Heart 2

Thanks to the series of concerts at V.V.Mohalla, my sister and I learned that India's greatest living mridangam artist was featured in two concerts.
(Mridangam is a percussion instrument, usually an accompaniment to southern Indian classical music, which goes by the name of Carnatic Music).
This eminent individual happens also to be someone we have known personally over the years, and because we remain in regular and even close touch with our extended family of cousins, we met him in September of last year (2011). He is my cousin's brother-in-law.
We attended one of the two concerts at which he played--we had to miss one because the monsoon decided to send us the heaviest rains on the first of the two evenings--where he had a solo of nearly 40 minutes, during which he demonstrated with great purity and thorough mastery the intertwining of melody and rhythm.
He is erudite. He is exquisitely articulate in more than one language. His contemplations on the physics of the instrument he plays have led him to undertake practical projects to find materials that can pass through import regulations of countries -- for example, Australia does not allow the traditional mridangam with the circular leather covered areas for health reasons.
Next month he is to be honored at the official residence of the President of India, where our President, Pranab Mukherjee is going to award him a fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Academy--the academy of the performing arts.
When he converses, he drops nuggets of anecdotes of other eminent persons with whom he regularly comes into contact, interspersing his narration with allusions to myths, epics, philosphers western and indian, as well as the more mundane but idiosyncratic ways of the Tamil people of a region that we still call our ancestral heritage.
For example, he described a verse in Tamil for us, first having recited the original from Valmiki's Ra,ayana in Sanskrit, in which Sita appeared to Hanuman "like a beautiful instrument left unplayed." This he connected to the idea of constant practice, rigorous disciplined training, which alone enables one to translate knowledge of music into performance.
Charm, genius, and an open heart.
That's Umayalpuram Sivarman, one of India's greatest.

Our modem is your modem, madam.

The other day, my telephone line went dead and remained dead for a week or more, while my complaint dockets piled for attention with the phone company.

There are breakdowns which are normally accepted in India after a monsoon downpour.  Electric supply gets disrupted, the phone lines get iffy.  But when, in this instance, after two days of sunshine the cables hadn’t dried out and my phone line hadn’t been miraculously resurrected, I began to look for higher ups to whom I could appeal for intervention.

Within hours of reaching a head honcho, the joyful trill of the phone filled my house. Mysteriously, however, that improvement  had somehow caused my broadband connection to go kaput.

I went back to the cheerless task of registering complaints, ready for another long campaign.

To my great surprise, because I had taken my complaint about the phone line to the top honcho and he was following up (as I subsequently  found out),  I began to receive calls from engineers and service personnel of various description, all of them making a beeline for my house to fix the broadband problem.

This attention continued ceaselessly for 2 days or more.  As a solution eluded the best of ‘em, each one offered a new and original explanation as to why the internet connection wasn’t working: You have parallel telephone lines that corrupt voice and digital data, said another and I got rid of the parallel lines. Your internal wiring is the issue insisted yet another and I got that changed.  You are physically located too far from the main exchange, said the third.  I would have moved to another location, had it been possible.

A weekend intervened. Monday arrived. More men called me with cheerful upbeat questions about how the internet connection was. Not working, I said, and deflated the callers.

You might think that my frustration meter was registering highs. Au contraire, my heart had begun to  melt for the folks who were thronging around my desktop computer and a modem, crawling under the purpose-built desk to find a rogue cable, the cause of all my “suffering” as one engineer termed it.    I never thought of a broken broadband connection as cause for suffering.  Annoyance, may be.  Inconvenience, definitely. But someone sensed in my being suffering! How could my heart not be melted by such empathy?

Long stories are read only if you make them short.

A super-specialist turned up and worked from coffee-break to  coffee-break (I provided the coffee—this way the gentleman was captive in my house).  It is your modem, madam, he concluded.  It is defintiely probably your modem, madam. Now I have put my modem, madam, he said.

Five minutes of the best broadband connection and a crystal clear telephone line.  Five triumphant minutes when we reveled in the quality Indian technology can deliver. And then there was a sudden dip in the voltage, and the broadband got disconnected.

Chuckling at the unreliability of continuous power supply, the super specialist attempted to connect to the server.

You guessed it. It was no go.

Let me keep this short. He called other specialists and sure, the thing was beaten. Technology is always a servant of the thinking human being.  

Now everything works splendidly. 

I have the following things now:
  • The fastest internet connection this side of Infosys, Mysore. 
  • I have a telephone line through which I can hear birdsong from distant lands.
  • I also have the phone company’s modem.  

The engineer who left it had a near-superstitious fear of checking the line with my modem, and none of my prodding and cajoling would alleviate it.

Keep our modem, madam, he said. What is there?

With smiles all around and nothing explained about why my broadband had broken down in the first place and what had been fixed, he departed.

Madam therefore has two modems, and a perfectly working phone line and a blitzing broadband connection. 


Kamakshi Balasubramanian said...

what I have said in "Revelation" is probably nothing new to many learned people. I am excited because I arrived on my own at the question about the origin of the word "Hindu".

James Hamilton said...

I like your Relevation! Seems it was the Persians who brought their word for "India" to bear on the Hindu. Here I got out of Presbyterian Pressure by declaring myself Atheist, but haven't found a temple that will take me. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is pretty decent, but still a bit too earnest for my personal sectarian preference. Good luck with your new modem!

Kanwal Dhaliwal said...

Dear Kamakshi. "The Revelation" inspired me to share something from an article I wrote on the subject of "Heresy". It was originally in Punjabi, and has recently been published in a leading quarterly. I tried to 'convert' an excerpt in English for you: “The oldest established faith system in India is Brahmanism (Hindu), which due to it’s antiquity, also named as the ‘Snatan Dharma, Snatan being eternal or ‘the one which was there forever’ and Dharma is a popular word for religion (although it has its own etymology). Considering the antiquity of the Snatan Dharma, it’s easy to imagine that it would have encountered many heretic institutions throughout its long history and the wars between ‘the new’ and ‘the old’ must have resulted in bloodshed.

Although the followers of Mahaveera, the Tirthanker (prophet) of the Jains could be considered as the pioneer-heretics to Hinduism, but Gautama the Buddha was the first to pose a real challenge. The massacres of the Buddhists at the hands of the Brahmans/Hindus and the building of the Hindu temples on the foundations of the Buddhist Viharas, destroyed by the zealots of Brahmanism, is perhaps the best kept secret of the Indian History.

The base of the Hindu beliefs, just as in case of Greece and Egypt, is mythology. Just as the Greek myths were pushed out of peoples’ lives by Christianity becoming the royal faith, Egyptian mythology was kept confined to archaeology by the emerging sword of Islam, the threat to Hinduism, much older mythological belief system than Greek or Egyptian, was eminent. Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism were such ‘new’ ideologies of their time, which challenged the set norms of beliefs in India. Only Buddhists and Sikhs though could manage to create their distinct identities for themselves but they could not erase the pre-existing beliefs from the hearts and minds of the believers as was the case of Greeks and Egyptians.
The supporters of the Brahmanism often heard claiming “This is such a religion which embraces everyone”. In other words “it submerges outsiders in itself.” Usually their claims mean that the Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs – all are Hindus, but while making such claims, they subconsciously reveal a hidden truth, that the contemporary Hindu religion is in fact a collection of the variety of different belief systems, born and developed at different times and in different part of the country.

Shavism ( worshipping of Shiva), Vaishnavism ( worshipping of Vishnu), Deviism (worshipping of the mother goddess) and many more such regional “isms” have slowly kept on coming together to become a larger body of the faith under one name. Then the Vedic philosophy of the Aryans also became a part of the same body, and the Epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana, composed centuries later than the Vedas, also came to join in. Therefore the source of the Hindu faith is not a definite one, but a mixture of many ideologies. And this particular character of this faith system, in fact provides it with a very ingenious way to counter the heresies: Bring the heretics under their umbrella and call it “their own”!

But the message of Gautam and Nanak was not that easy to be accommodated under such an umbrella. They attacked the Hinduism right in it’s heart – the caste system! Although, why the revolution of Buddhism and Sikhism could not cure the society from the curse of the caste, is an issue to be discussed separately. Not only the followers of these ‘heretics’ who were born within the Hindu society, but also the ones who embraced the ideologies of the foreign lands- The Islam and the Christianity, blindly keep on practicing the caste prejudices as permanent sickness."

Kanwal Dhaliwal

Kanwal Dhaliwal said...
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Kanwal Dhaliwal said...

Regarding the name Hindu, of course you are very right to mention the River Sindhu. The people who speak Punjabi or Hindustani (Hindi/Urdu) and know the language at a conscious level, can confirm this linguistic characteristic of the language, that the sound ‘s’ (s) and the sound ‘h’ (h) often interchange in the use of language. Let me give some examples: The word ‘uh’ auh (he/she) in Punjabi often used as ‘us’ aus. Same for possessive pronoun uh da (his/her) can be written as us da.

In Rahul Sankritayayan’s epic novel ‘From Volga to Ganga’, in an episode about Aryans of Kuru Panchaal, an elderly Aryan of the Madr Janapada (Punjab) corrects a young visitor from East Panchaal (today’s UP) about his name:
“ – …I just wish to know your name o’ young man ?”
- “Sudaas Panchaal”
-“Not ‘Sudaas’, but Sudaah - the one who gives beautiful alms (daan). You, the Easterners don’t even know the language…”

Well, the word Sindhu (सिन्धु) in Sanskrit simply means river, sea or ocean. Clearly the people who first used this word, were the ones who crossed over or/and settled around ‘The River’! Sindh is such a majestic river that it has been acting as a natural border between India and the world, just as Himalayas in the North and oceans in the south. Therefore when you say River Sindh, you are actually saying “River River”. This is not the only example of such a jumble: In Rajsthani the word for desert is Thaar, so we have “Thar desert” and in Arabic the word for desert is Sahra, so we have Sahara desert! In each of these cases we are saying “desert desert”. Isn’t interesting? There are some more examples, which I came across even in Britain where the roman names of certain entities are now the names particular places/features.

So, clearly it’s the name of the river or just ‘the river’ from where the believers of India derive their name. The same Sindhu becomes the Hindu and the same ‘Hind’ becomes the ‘Ind’. It was most likely the Greeks who first made India from Hind, since most of European names of the countries had suffix of ‘–ia’ : Russia, Germania, Baritania, Italia, Ispania, etc.
How it happed, is a matter of research but certainly not a rocket science. Modern anthropologists are today equipped with such tools which can see through the bones of the time. It’s of course a matter of setting the priorities right and, perhaps political correctness also plays a role, what we learn and what we stay ignorant about.

Isn’t it ironic that the state which hates the word ‘Hindu’ now owns The Sindhu and on the other side, a nation has been deprived of owning a river from where it derives her name?
Kanwal Dhaliwal

Kamakshi Balasubramanian said...

kanwal--thank you for your observations, comments, and the information.