Saturday, September 17, 2011

I Miss You, Uncle Pai

We do miss you.
The Google doodle today, i.e. 17th September, bears an imprint of perhaps the most intrinsic part of my childhood. I have no memory when I got introduced to Tinkle comics, I just know I used to have a huge collection of them; every single comic prized. Like many other children who grew up with me, I too was into the habit of calling the remarkable creator of these comics as "Uncle Pai", and had a secret resolve that some day, when I am worthy enough, I will have Uncle Pai pat my back. Unfortunately, earlier this year, this enterprising and affable educationist, formally recognized as Anant Pai, passed away. My secret, innocent childhood resolve, struck my mind again, as did the thought that the resolve was best forgotten. Uncle Pai, who had guided me through numerous science projects, given me witty stories to reproduce in class and connected me to many more readers my age via their personal stories, is gone. I always wanted to, but never wrote to him. May be today I should, however silly it seems.

Dear Uncle Pai,
A very happy birthday to you. 
I have been one of your greatest admirers. When I was little, I never understood the manner in which you were enriching my life. Today, I do. In February, when I heard of your demise, I opened the neglected and dust ridden trove of my childhood books, only to glance back at the wonderful comics you made. Those comics did not even adhere to the definition of comics. They were educative, and yet, very interesting. For the most precious years of my young life, I have remained hooked to them.
Wasn't he the cutest?
I had a December ritual of rereading all the issues published during the year in just about a week. It was as if, I did not want any single story to be erased from my mind, so I kept on revising them. This much of dedication I never showed to my class texts- this loyalty was reserved for Shikari Shambhi, Kalia the Crow, Suppandi and Tantri the Mantri exclusively.
In my early days, I never enjoyed Anu Club. I needed to grow up to appreciate the effortless knowledge which came my way even through a very cursory reading of his experiments. My Science Projects, one I definitely remember on Sea Creatures, has been simply copy pasted from the informative features which were sine qua non of these path-breaking and endearing comics.
There was this feature, "It Happened To Me", which regularly appeared in Tinkle. Every interesting incident that took place in my life is carefully recorded in my journal, with me each time imagining as if I am writing it to Tinkle and young readers are gasping and laughing at my stories. You, Uncle Pai, made me pursue my diary writing habit with fondness, something of which, I am very proud. However, if today, I were to tell you a story for you to publish in the same column, then I would perhaps tell you of my very old friend, whose name is hazy on the pages of my memory, but whose face I distinctly remember. Some ten years back, he had come to Delhi from Nagaland to pursue the better quality of studies on offer in Delhi. My class teacher made his sit with me, but he never would talk to me. In a week I realized that he was very sad, and lonely; for he acutely missed his family, his friends, his toys. I was sad, and tried to be really good friends with him, but after school, he had nothing to do. No one to talk to, given that he was an introvert. So, I decided that every weekend, I would him give some copies of Tinkle to read- what better friends could there be for a lonely introvert. And this trend became the happiest memory of my bond with him. When he left school, he thanked me profusely, not for my friendship- but for sharing those comics. The excitement in those pre-teen eyes for getting some new copies of Tinkle to read still warms my heart.
The letter is long, but it won't end without me expressing remorse, and giving you a promise. The famous Amar Chitra Katha series you published- I could never lay my hands on it. I did, however, hear about the uniqueness of those books at introducing nascent minds to the royal mythology of our country which spreads much beyond just the staple epics- Ramayana and Mahabharata. I feel sorry for myself, as I had to take more circuitous routes, read more arduous texts to understand the same mythical stories which you told so simply through your inimitable story telling skills. I do, however, promise, that when I have children, the first books I would introduce to them would be your books.I hope my copies of Tinkle survive by then. And I earnestly hope that Amar Chitra Katha is still sold then by benevolent bookseller who are already facing competition from the electronic world. 
Uncle Pai, I hope your legend lives on.
I sign off as a little member of this huge extended family you created.
Vasavadattas story- in Uncle Pai's peerless style

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


It all began with this photograph. Madhuri Dixit in a Marylin Monroe avataar. I first saw this photograph some years back. I was amused for a while, and then fell in love with it. Today morning, I came across it again. It lent me warmth, and a familiar smile. And then some sadness. Splashed across all newspapers is the dismal news of passing away of the most iconic photographer Bollywood has ever been testimony to, someone, who will be forever hard to find a parallel of. Gautam Rajadhyaksha. A name which is reverential for upcoming photographers; a person, the shock of whose sudden demise was more than palpable as I opened my twitter account to check random updates. 

I am not much of a follower of photography. However, a die hard fan of Bollywood I incorrigibly am. Along with many others, Madhuri Dixit has been among my top childhood obsessions; someone like whom I wanted to dance, and smile, and even act. Collecting photographs of favorite Hindi Cinema stars was a charming occupation while we were still kids. This picture, and another one carrying a fresh from sleep, yawning Salman Khan, are fond favorites, both iconic, both clicked by the master himself- Gautam Rajadhyaksha. 

I googled him, his photography, and arrived at some unmissable photographs. Gone are those days when we would endeavor to neatly cut out favorite pictures from newspapers and magazines, and daintily paste them in happy scrapbooks, along with footnotes murmuring of our playtime obsessions for years after. Now we just log onto Google, click on images, and have the whole universe of images unfold right before our eyes. I did the same, and found some portraits which I would want to paste here, as memories of a man I did not know, but whose art has has more than mesmerized my eyes. A small ode to a great artist.

Simplicity at its best. Is there any other instance we remember of seeing the sisters share a melodious laughter with such a candid ease?
The sensuous beauty, Rekha, reminiscent of some ancient queen, some Indian Goddess.

Smita Patil- her beauty and grace has over powered me for ages. I bet this is one of the photographer's personal favorites.

Hailed as one of his best works. Shows the master batsmen conquering the world; the ball being symbolic of just the same.
Salman, as he looked in his nascent days. At that time, I have fantasized about him.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What An Honor!

I was red in my face, but my heart was galloping. That feeling is best experienced. Back in college to see the society I nearly built in my last two years embark on another year long journey of activities, I had imagined I would be ridden with nostalgia of the worst intensity. However, ecstasy was the only emotion I could experience as my juniors made me feel so grand, and so special- they gave me the VIP treatment I have been giving all my guests who would grace the events I organized during my tenure as the President of WSDC. Right from the invite, to the honor of launching our magazine, to giving a speech for concluding the event, my day could not have been better.

WSDC was indispensable to my existence in college, and going back to pass the baton on to some very able juniors was an occasion for much joy and celebration. It was a near perfectly organized Orientation Ceremony, where all new members are inducted into the Society, with permissible goof ups here and there. The Chief Guest was an inspiring lady with strong oratorial skills; most importantly, she was a Civil Servant of the AGMUT Cadre, and my obsession and awe relating to Civil Officers is fairly famous. At points during her speech, she drove me to tears while describing things as basic as hygiene conditions which are largely deprived to a large section of Indian girls- both, because of economic, as well as issues of ignorance.

Leaving that serious thought there, the clear highlight of the whole day for me was when I launched the second edition of my magazine, so lovingly drafted last year by me and a few friends-cum-colleagues. It looks pretty- the cover from last year has been retained. It was perhaps one of the most ambitious literary excursions I undertook during my college life, and honestly, though nothing close to perfect, it is still very special. The way the magazine has come out, it is not so commendable in presentation, but has a very rich and pride-worthy content.

Pasted below is the Editorial (-cum-President's message) written for the same magazine, the cover for which is displayed on the right, above.

Time really flies fast. This is the worst cliché with which I could have begun the editorial for this magazine, but really, I cannot help it. The Women Studies and Development Cell was more than just a part of my personality in college for the past two years. Two years! Now that is a lot of time. However, it does not feel that way. There is so little we’ve done, and so much more we can still do. But, like all good things, my tenure as the President of this wonderful society is finally coming to an end. It is an eerie feeling to know that there will come one day when I would wake up, and WSDC activities would not form a part of my daily agenda. It is equally disheartening to realize that this little-big family I had cultivated among the members of WSDC will soon be estranged. I will move on, from WSDC, from college, leaving behind things which will adorn the most beautiful canvas of college memories for me.

So, as my last offering, I along with a team of some amazingly supportive members, present to all of you the second edition of ‘Being a Woman, Being Me.’ Our magazine is still in its nascent second year of being published, but from the first edition we published last year, it has certainly come a long  way. The first edition was experimental. More than anything, it aimed at providing a portal to our members for expressing that which affected them most. The magazine was received with much appreciation, but we knew in our hearts that we could do much better.

And so, when my team convened to put in place the themes for this magazine, their enthusiasm for bringing out a glazed finished product was palpable. We collectively decided to keep it simple; but we wanted to move ahead in a focused way. We pride ourselves on the kind of society we belong to and the kind of causes we espouse and fervently work towards. The first section of this magazine, hence, is dedicated towards highlighting issues of grave concern for females of all ages, strata and nationalities. We also knew that womanhood is not just about tears and melancholy-it is a celebration! Our second section is a tribute to the wonderful feeling that being a woman is. A poetess resided in the hearts of many of our society members. It was remarkable to notice the ease with which member girls of our society could express themselves via the relatively abstract medium of poetry and not prose. A third section was thus decided upon to provide a creative vent to the blossoming poetesses of our society.

Besides these three, a fourth very important section was born. While I was circulating our last year’s magazine among some NGOs and activists, a very unassuming confession was made by one of the NGO members about her inability to understand the magazine because of the linguistic barriers. I sat down to explain the varied topics which we covered in that magazine, and with more zeal for wanting to read it, she requested if I could attempt a translation of the whole magazine. Now that was a Herculean task to fulfill!  However, I made a mental note of the fact that if I am to ever again work on a magazine which has to have a larger mass reach, I have to make sure the linguistics don’t post a barrier. A first tiny step has been taken in that direction. We have introduced a Hindi section at the end of the magazine, which I hope, will only grow as successive editions of this magazine are born.

For anyone flipping through the pages of the magazine, I hope you stumble upon something that touches a nerve, that makes you stop and think. If that happens, the purpose of bringing out this magazine is more than solved. It goes without saying that I hold immense gratitude in my heart towards every single person who has contributed towards this magazine. I cannot end the editorial without thanking Ishani Tikku, who almost single handedly edited all articles for me, and treated this magazine with as much reverence as I did. I thank Rosemary and Priyanka Tampi, for their promptness in making the magazine visually attractive. I thank Ancy and Rohini for all their support. I thank Nikita Sailesh for being the tireless silent worker.

Most importantly, I need to thank my convenors- Dr. Amita Tiwari and Dr. Alka Marwah. I have gone on record saying that they are the best convenors we could have got, and I reiterate it most emphatically here. They were the prefect guides, motivators and friends throughout our endeavours. It comes from the heart- such was the faith they posed in us and encouragement they gave us that I could not have helped falling in love with them. For this magazine too, they were instrumental in giving me and my team all the necessary aid, guidance and assistance we most needed, and hence were pivotal to whatever the magazine has shaped up as.

Thank you all!

A quote would just do to provide the perfect end to this editorial. This quote coruscates in my best dreams. I share it all with you here, hoping it will inspire you as much as it inspires me.

“We live in deeds, not years: In thoughts not breaths; in feelings, not in figures on a dial. We should count time by heart throbs. He most lives who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”


-Saumya Kulshreshtha

Editor, Being a Woman, Being Me

President, Woman Studies and Development Cell, JMC.



PS- You can also read the Annual Report of WSDC at  "From the Pen of the President, Women Studies and Development Cell, Jesus and Mary College"


Monday, September 5, 2011

Enlightenment- Beyond The Ramayana and The Mahabharata

उपमा कालीदासस्य भरवेः अर्थगौरवं
दण्डिनः पदलालित्यं माघे सन्ति त्रयो गुणाः 

From this Shloka (श्लोक) begins my much looked forward to journey in the resplendent world of Samskrit Literature. Aah! Pleasures galore.

Not since today, but since forever, I have wanted to more than take a peek into the stories- historical and mythical- written by the preeminent scholars of the most ancient among all languages spread over the SaptaSindhu- more commonly recognizable as the Aaryan India- संस्कृत. I did, to some extent, quench this desire by reading quite majestic English translations of the most common Samskrit epics- The Ramayana and the Mahabharata (and the Bhagavad Gita), along with the not so great translations of other exquisite pieces of Samskrit literature; but now, and for the past weeks, I am reading pieces of literary genius, in the language of the vidvaans themselves. And it is proving to be nothing short of an experience lending ecstasy at every bend and corner I encounter in this journey through the greatest of Samskrit works.

The above Shloka has been composed by an anonymous scholar, who, adhering to the most basic of poetic meters, has stated in succinct precision the most renowned of literary traits of four Samskrit poets of unparalleled accomplishments- कालीदास, भारवि, दण्डी, and माघ.
Kaalidasa- Upama Kaalidasasya
Hailed as the 'Kavikulguru', the above shloka points out to the mastery of Kaalidasa at weaving the most beautiful similes in his poems. His similes, the genius at comparing and contrasting and drawing parallels, lends a perspicacity to his poems, which makes the thoughts of the poet effortlessly enter the mind of his readers. Raghuvamsa and Kumarsambhavam are two easy testimonies to his glorious similes.

Bharavi- Bhaarave Arthgauravam
Bharavi has been accredited with writing few of the most poetically  beautifully verses, which are rich in both- beauty of language, and beauty of meaning. The above shloka specifically points out to the arthagaurav- his ability to express a plethora of meanings in the least possible words; in other words- the depth of words. While sifting through his Kiratarjuniyam, some of his verses virtually left me stunned, but this shall be the topic of one of my later writings.

Dandi- Dandinah Padlaalityam
I have not yet read any of Dandi's works so commenting this line would be difficult- but padlaalityam in basic terms implies the beauty as represented in the arrangement of words in his prose. Of his most famous creations in Dashkumarcharitam, which I happen to be reading at present.

Maagh- Maaghe santi trayo gunah
As remarked by certain scholars, Maagh was perhaps the most accomplished of all kavis, as far as the beauty of his compositions if concerned. This is concurred by the anonymous composer of the shloka under discussion, who grants the climax of his shloka to Maagh, stating that the Great kavi Maagh has all three of the discussed qualities- upama, arthgauravam, and padlaalityam.

Not much is available about these poets on the internet, but I guess it is a blessing in disguise for a seeker of literary treasures, like me. I was driven towards more authentic sources to aid my learning, and in my quest, I am being guided by the ablest of mentors available- my mother- one of the best Samskrit teachers in Delhi. Her zeal to teach makes me want to learn faster.

PS- The last piece of gyaan bestowed on me today is whether they write prose or poetry, the writers in Samskrit are addressed as 'Kavi'- गद्यकवि (Gadyakavi)  and पद्कवि (Padkavi)