Monday, February 25, 2013

The Smile Which Went A Hundred Miles - Guest Post by Anamta Rizvi

Sophie sensed the tangible pandemonium around her. Mystified by the utter baffling crowd, she pretended to be calm. But this pretension made her fiercely anxious. She just had to move from Central Secretariat to the Govind Puri station but the stuffed crowd was surely being a catalyst in her angst and was fuelling her claustrophobia. She told herself,” Just step in the metro and that is it”. Pacifying herself was now the only option. Coming from a small town, metro seemed a humongous deal. She noticed her insignificant presence around. Nobody bothered where she came from. Nobody cared for her claustrophobia. Nobody had time to even look up at her.  Leave alone to help her. Unwelcoming is Delhi.  Being pushed and pulled and shoved, she entered to experience her first ever metro journey. Sophie stood terribly shaken in that callous ambience. Familiarity was not even a tinge close in those indifferent faces. Amidst the cacophony, she noticed the girl across her. Their eyes met and a meaningful smile was passed by that girl. That little curve that goes up towards the eyes unveiling bliss and lightening one’s features, that smile was a profound solace to Sophie. Among the strangest of the strange faces, that smile in the moment of her weakness gave her an uncanny secure feeling. She smiled back with the same cheer in her eyes. Just at the moment when that girl was stepping down at Lajpat nagar, Sophie happened to glance at the locket that she was wearing which said Aliena. Sophie smiled and the metro moved forward.  

It was indeed a big day for Aliena. Half an hour before time, she once again checked the order in which she had filed her published articles. This job was horribly needed. Not only that it would just pay the heavy rents and bills but it will help her to carve a niche for herself. It was just not a job for her, it was WRITING. She waited in the magnificent parlour of that publishing house. The calmness of that atmosphere, the essence of the teak wood furniture, the magnificent tranquillity certainly got on her nerves. She knew her experience was way too less than many others but she was well aware that her skill and dedication were her strengths. On being called, she gathered her stuff, settled her coat and carefully walked ahead. As she stepped on the elevator, she felt someone’s presence right behind her. Just casually turning, she was welcomed by a smile. That smile made her smile and it miraculously made that incessant thudding of her heart ease. It reminded her of her own magical power. Her own beautiful smile! She turned again to acknowledge him but just heard someone greeting him by the name Rishabh. Aliena smiled and moved forwards.

Today’s pending work yet again was added to his already plethora of work. Driving back home, Rishabh was figuring out how he will manage the whole schedule for this work packed coming week. Not only were his incomplete targets taking a toll on him but the coming Wednesday was his wedding anniversary. An off in the middle of the week would surely cost him a lot. But his continuously nagging wife was a bigger issue than most of his important tasks. The Axis bank board reminded him to pay the fees of his seven year old son. Too weary to go through the formalities today, he thought of delaying it for tomorrow. Tomorrow would be impossible; hence he did the bank duty. He recalled if he had to pay any other bill and that reminded him of a series of regular errands. It was nine in the night now. His endeavour to reach home early was yet again in vain. Waiting for the green light at the signal, he observed the unending buzzing of his city. Glancing outside, he happened to see a lean fellow on his bicycle and the pillion rider was a young anorexic girl in a sari with her brightly coloured bangles. Holding in her hands was probably their infant who seemed amazed by the surroundings. That man looked back at him and gave him a smile; a smile that made Rishabh smile back. That smile of the lean fellow was impregnated with sheer bliss, and in spite of his dark skin, he saw a tinge of blush and his thick moustaches smiled along too. Honking of the cars made him realise that the light had turned green. Rishabh smiled and moved forwards.

On the way Rishabh recalled an article that he had read on the power of smile. The author said, ”How under rated is this half moon curve on our face. Apparently, we all have it but are deplorably stingy to use it. What harm if you give it to someone once a day. What harm if that curve on your face can make a terrified soul relax. What harm if that uplifting of your cheek make and angry being cool down. What harm if that semi circle of your lips breaks the ice between two strangers. What harm if that beautiful thing on your face ends the animosity between two persons. What harms if that movement of your muscles helps you relax the tension of your own body. The million dollar smile has been taken too literally I believe. Hey my miser readers, you are not actually paying those dollars. So stop being Uncle Scrooge and smile away to glory. Smile to celebrate every moment. Smile to give happiness around. Smile to drive away sorrows. As a matter of fact, Smile is the world’s simplest phenomenon to impart happiness. Smile, to be aptly noted, is a one syllable word and has been deliberately meticulously chosen to make it light weighted, easily spelt and most importantly widely and effortlessly functioned. Why are most of our pictures with smiles our favourites? Because my dear readers we look beautiful when we smile. It makes the world around us smiles. This reminds of a couplet... Ghar se Masjid hai bahot door chalo yun karlein/ kisi rote hue bachche ko hasaya jaaye. So let us pledge to smile to the ‘knowns’ and to the ‘unknowns’.”

Recalling these words from an anonymous author, Rishabh smiled and reached to his Smiling Home. 

By Anamta Rizvi

Anamta Rizvi was the first friend I found at Jamia Millia Islamia - much before I even knew that I would be taking admission to this university situated at the end of the world for me. To have her around is to have sophistication and exuberance showered on you each moment. She is a fabulous writer as well, and I am blessed that I have her as a classmate, a co-worker, and as an amazing friend. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chanakya's New Manifesto by Pavan K. Varma

This is not a book review. This is a book experience.

There are perks to being a student of the English Department at Jamia Millia Islamia. There are days you can come to college and realize that the department has organized a free book pick-up for you. (Yay!) Then there are other days when you are gifted the privilege of meeting some of the most prominent authors, who are responsible for making the literary scene of India rich and happening. In these co-curricular activities, their is a joy of stepping out of books to receive knowledge from wisdom and experience of those who are veterans in their fields. I happened to feel similar joy last week, when Aleph and Department of English, JMI, jointly came together to introduce author-diplomat Pavan K. Varma to students and avid book readers, and, more specifically, to those young-hearts, who feel they have a stake in our country's future.

Mr. Pavan K. Varma has authored 19 books so far, and even a cursory glance at the list of books he has written throws light of the versatility of his literary forays. From economics, to politics, to translation and fiction, Mr. Varma has experimented with it all, and his books have consistently tasted success. Chanakya's New Manifesto is the first of his books which I have read, thanks to an advance reading copy sent my way by Aleph, and after being thoroughly impressed and enriched by the contents of this book, I can safely say that I understand why Mr. Varma has churned out such consistently successful books.

Chanakya's New Manifesto is a document which analyses in very crisp terms the challenges which the Indian polity faces. This book, then, spends a greater time in illustrating some very pragmatic suggestions which can be a possible answer to the problems which our country finds itself grappling with. The book is critical of policies and people who have stood in the way of our progress and potential as a nation. It draws solutions/suggestions for contemporary crises from examples of other nations, from our own reports of various commissions and committees, and in each page, it displays the thorough research which the author has undertaken to come out with this kind of a comprehensive manifesto.

To streamline his suggestions better, the author has divided the many challenges which India faces into five distinct categories - Governance, Democracy, Corruption, Security, and creation of an Inclusive Society. After taking a few pages to outline the grey areas of policy and the repeated failures of lawmakers and implementers in these 5 areas, Mr. Varma elaborates in greater detail the kind of steps which need to be taken to combat and overcome our shortcomings. This is what I find great about this book - its passionate solution orientedness. This passion I understood in greater depth when Mr. Varma visited our campus, and in a single line, caught our attention 'Evolution of nations badi pecheeda cheez hai' - he stated in no uncertain terms, that despite being a civilization which is about 5000 years old, we have challenges which cannot be buried under the glory of history. Since it is our collective future at stake, we cannot afford to not be interested in the functioning of our nation. According to him, as has also been stated in his book, in India, the imperatives of governance and democracy are antithetical to each other, and our challenge is to tweak the system in such a way that governance and democracy become complimentary to each other.

With Mr. Pavan K. Varma

In the year 1947, our republic had the luxury of time. Now, 65 years later, with rampant corruption, mass poverty, social indices worse than Sub-Saharan Africa and two hostile neighbours, that luxury is lost to us. Taking inspiration from classical India's greatest thinker - Chanakya - this book attempts to devise result oriented political, administrative and social strategy - a must read for those who take interest in India and its dynamics. For students planning to get into administration, this book simply cannot be missed. I am already preparing to read it a second time, and if I were to rate it, 4.5 stars on 5 would be my succinct review of this manifesto. How I wish some political party came out someday with such foresight, passion and will for the unambiguous, non-negotiable betterment of India.

Book Details -
Author - Pavan K. Varma
Source - Review Copy
Publisher - Aleph
Published - 2013
Genre - Non-Fiction
Price - ₹ 295
Pages - 248

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Rhapsody in February

I was buying hard and fast into the argument of the cynics. What is so special about this day? Western or Eastern, it is an absurd tradition. How can the celebration of love be confined to a single day? It is just a propaganda. It creates so much pressure. It builds expectations. It is mad. And then in India, it is dangerous too. Valentines. Big deal!

So, yes, it was decided. This is a day to remain locked up at home. With my candles, and cakes, and flowers. Wait, no! Wasn't I just ridiculing the very concept of this day? And now, I plan to, like the painful cliché goes, be my own Valentine? I smirked. I am a sad case. It is all absurd. Not only is it a day to suck brain and money out of the fooled consumers, it is also a day designed to make the likes of me pathetic and lonely. Everything is wrong with this day. What are you all, smeared with crimson, happy about? Get a life. 

Its seven in the evening. The sun took longer to erase its trail from the sky tonight. I wait for it to sink before I go for my rendezvous with the light breeze outside. It is convenient. I can stroll on the terrace with a goofy smile on my face, and no one will know. I can walk, and churn stories in my head, layering them with apposite facial expressions, and no one will know. I can remember him, feel a ticklish sensation in my heart, have a drop or two shed from my eyes, and no one will know. To amuse myself, I can draw a long, filmi sigh, and no one still will know. These nights are my own - they help me live and breathe like no one's watching. Secure in dark. Looking down (literally) at the world. Looking back in time. It really is a spoilt day 

A gentle melody wafts up on the breeze. I hear it for some seconds, and then it fades. I must have hallucinated. Are my imaginations that strong? I hear it again. This time, fainter. It disappears again, but not before my lips curve into a smile. I feel like exploring, discovering, reaching the source of this sound. Only, I am rendered immobile. With a weak, confused smile on my face. Did I hear it? For some seconds, yes. It sounded familiar, but, didn't it? I wish desperately to hear it once more. I try to rouse the music by the power of my will, concentrating hard with closed eyes. There. It hits again. Not my ears, but my heart. It comes closer, those lovely strains of the piano. I feel light on my feet, and my dimples deepen. I can visualize the nimble fingers working their magic to write romance with music. 

With laughter matching the rhythm of that melody, I open my eyes. I know this composition. With a lump in my throat, I look back to last Valentine's, when he played it for me. He did not just play, he made it for me. We were not just celebrating Valentine's. We were celebrating the day which brought us together, about half a decade back. 

His love continues to throb like music in my heart. He did get lost in the pages of time somewhere, but the love lingered. Like sweet music, like pious tears. 

Today, I cannot reach him, but I can write to him. If I could, this is what I would... 

Kyun tu achchha lagta hai, 
Waqt mila toh sochenge.
Tujh mein kya kya dekha hai
Waqt mila toh sochenge

Sara sheher shanasai ka davedaar toh hai lekin
Kaun humara apna hai, waqt mila toh sochenge

Humne usko likha tha kuchh milne ki tadbeer karo
Usne likhkar bheja hai, waqt mila toh sochenge

Aur mausam, khushbu, baad-e-saba, chand, shafaq aur taaron mein
Kaun tumhare jaisa hai, waqt mila toh sochenge

Ya toh apne dil ki maano ya phir duniyawalon ki
Mashwara kiska achchha hai, waqt mila toh sochenge

Kyun tu achchha lagta hai,
Waqt mila toh sochenge, 
Waqt mila toh sochenge

Happy Valentine's Day!
To all of you. 
Spread the love!

(I do not know the poet of the above lines. Do share if you do.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Don't Kill Him - A Memoir By Ma Anand Sheela

"Everyone was so crazy for enlightenment and so zealously anxious to be without ego and to be meditative that they could do anything for it. The sanyasins took part in sexual encounters, emptied their pockets and proved their devotion (through) expensive gifts. This exploitation was dirty, ugly and repulsive, especially coming from Bhagwan."
I have devotedly steered clear of foraying anywhere near the influence of any self-styled spiritual Guru, or any self-proclaimed God. As a matter of fact, the Baba culture in India (and perhaps elsewhere) has been seen by me as a charismatic con profession, thriving on the innocence and helplessness of an easily believing public. However, perhaps my blog is the place to admit, that the only figure from this exclusive club that I have felt like exploring is Osho Rajneesh. In the last book I read, I was given precisely the chance to do that, albeit from a very different angle.

"From Sex To Superconsciousness" - this book was my only marker of identification for Osho Rajneesh; but, an autobiographical account written by Ma Anand Sheela, once Osho's secretary, has revealed to me much more about his life. These revelations have been fantastic, fascinating, disgusting, eye-opening and confusing, all at the same time. Written in two parts, this book conveys the various highs and lows of the journey which Ma Anand Sheela undertook along with Osho - her Bhagwan, who mesmerized her, then exploited her, accused her, but who, till the very end, remained her Bhagwan.

In the first part of her memoir, Sheela recounts the details of her voluntary separation from both, Osho and his commune in Oregon. This separation was precipitated by Osho Rajneesh's erratic, exploitative, whimsical and harsh behaviour, which, despite extreme devotion, became difficult for Sheela and her other colleagues to tolerate. Their leaving did not spare them the ire of their Bhagwan, because they were then accused of having eloped from the commune with stolen cash. A round of harassment at the hands of law followed, because of which Sheela had to also spend time behind bars. She was let out for good behaviour later. In the second part of her book, Sheela revisits her first rendezvous with Osho, how she was intoxicated by him, how she and her husband joined his commune in Pune and how she ascended up to the position of Osho's secretary, virtually responsible for running the whole commune. She also describes in great depth the shifting of Osho's commune from Pune to Oregon and the craziness which went into establishing Osho at the position of power he was.

Among the many things this book does, it reveals the most scandalous aspects of Osho's life. It depicts him as a shrewd, exploitative and manipulative Guru who had fetishes which made my eye balls pop out. How can I forget the legendary statistic - with 96 Rolls Royces in his backyard, one fine day, Osho wanted 30 more! His indulgences do not stop there. It has also been alleged in this book that Osho also had amorous relationships with sanyasins in his commune. Osho's apathetic attitude towards his Indian followers has also been elaborated upon. A deep contradiction lies in the narrator's own voice when she elucidates in with painful detailing the way she faced harassment at the hands of Osho, yet, he remains her object of devotion, love and divinity.

My favorite parts of the book were the italicized tales of sufi and zen adventures. I loved this book from the first page, when it introduced me to the concept of 'khidr' - a kind of inner voice. It is a tale told with sheer honesty - at least that is what comes across - because the author has not shied away from sharing the most personal details from her own life. This book claims to be the telling of the story of the relationship which existed between Sheela and Osho, but it goes way beyond being just that. It is an investigation of the psychology which runs and sustains such spiritual congregations. It dwells from a fresh dimension on the most curious of Indian mystic Gurus, if one may call Osho that. Entertaining and, as I said, eye opening - this book is a 3.5 star book for me.
(Reviewed on request from the Fingerprint)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

A Little Trip Back To JMC

When I left those extra-tidy surroundings, I was glad another chapter in life was over, and that I had survived gracefully through it. I was eager and excited to unravel the next stop-over in the long journey of life. Time spent in JMC, I knew, would always be special to me; but I was almost definite that I am not going to miss college. That is how I became of late. Eager to move on, curious to explore the next level.

That said, I have to admit, that I each time I have gotten a chance to go back to college, I have literally pounced on that opportunity, at times even with a childlike enthusiasm. A corollary to this is that each time I have not been called back to be re-associated with endeavours which I began/participated in college, I have felt a gentle stab of envy, a minor pang of hurt. Truth is, I have always looked forward to going back. In the past year, on four amazing occasions, I was called back, and how dearly I cherish all those four days.

This post is not significant for its content. It is for its nostalgia. I went back to JMC on 31st January (also my father's birthday) to be a part of Model G20 Summit, organized under the auspices of ComAcumen '13 - the Commerce Department festival. I had co-chaired a similar conference in 2011 for Commerce Department, then along with a civil service veteran, Mr. P. Venkatesh. That is one experience I hold very dear. I feel proud while remembering how friends, strangers, peers, juniors, teachers, supervisors, guests, competitors and organizers, all seamlessly blended together to create a spectacle which immediately was imprinted in each person's psyche, and remains so till date.

The 31st January conference was a little different, a little new, but had much in it which I reflect back on and smile proudly about. It had the champion debators, in the form of Nithin and Shobhit - people I have admired and learnt from. It had a demure girl representing Saudi Arabia, who by instinct wanted to stand up and talk of women's rights and education. It had Sakshi and Anmol, two dear friends who've occupied more than necessary place in my mind purely out of warmth and affection I hold towards them. It had angry, belligerent delegates, and then it had Keshav, who represented innocence and sincerity in a committee of precocious talent. As endearing aberrations, it had the delegation of Australia promoting Australian tourism, and the invisible delegation of Italy, doubling up as a make-shift pudding stall.

Like always, what my pretty organizers stand out on was hospitality. Cakes and coffee to start the day and some homemade sweets to end it, I can go on being proud of the lovely ladies who invited me to JMC, and it would still be less. Monica, Aanchal, Manavi and Rohini - four girls I have known for excellent work in the past, all living up to their reputation, and also bearing my subtle bouts of fuss. This list cannot be complete without the mention of Akshay, my charming Vice-Chair, who saw me happy, who saw me cringe, who saw me recover and who saw me agonized, and amongst it all, he took my back and helped me carry on a decently successful show. For everyone I recounted, and who slipped mention, I have the sincerest of wishes. Hope to see you all very soon, but in a different setting :)

Here are few frames from the lens of photographer Shreya. 

The Winners - Nithin (far left) and Shobhit (far right) - we did not expect anything less from them!
The Runners Up - Anmol and Sakshi - and two of my favorite people from this circuit. 
Best Delegate - Keshav - where talent and humility coexist 
Paying heed to, arguably, my favorite delegate in the committee 
Now, 5 of my favorite frames -
Been there, said that
The girl whom I want to see soaring high, for she has it in her - with Aanchal Malik

My charming Vice Chair - Akshay Purohit - in moments, he was the elder among us two. 
With Monica and Aanchal and flowers. They put faith in me, and I put it right back in them
With Rohini, Aanchal and flowers - Madam Rohini was perhaps the only one who understood the eccentricities of my working, and who loved (loves) me for it. 

Lesson - Never be apologetic for your awesomeness.