Monday, 27 February 2017

Finding "Home"

Flashback: 1998
First Year of College: English Literature Honors Course
Class: Ancient Greek Literature: Odyssey
Professor (who over the years became my fav.) starts the class by asking us a question
“What do you think men desire the most?”
Random answers: love, wealth, health, (me being loudest – power), strength, fame, luck….
Our professor kept saying a no to all our answers
Finally when we gave up… (not easy for a group of smart talented headstrong young girls)

She gives us the answer “HOME

Back then, I thought my professor must be getting old and soft.. and that she “didn’t know better” Ah! foolishness of a young mind
Wasn’t it obvious for anyone in the world that men craved for power the most! 
Power is the force behind almost all battles… my stubborn head tried to reason again with the professor – trying to hint that she must be wrong… 
but she stuck to her point and we started with Odysseus and his adventures… 

I thought maybe this formed a good way to introduce the poem in the class, 
that’s why the professor wanted to stick to it… but all these years...
this point stayed in my mind as it was so much beyond my comprehension, how could someone want “home”, everyone has a home (yeah.. inexperienced mind).. didn’t they want adventure, new experiences…
So there it was tucked away in my head all these years – one tiny thought which just didn’t make sense to me

Back to the Present: Older & Wiser (I hope!)

Last two decades after the college incident – I feel have been to make me more sensitive towards the point where instead of power, values of home and love take over.

Second World War, current political conflicts – mainly hover around land, defining space. On outer level, they look like a fight for power, but when one looks closer - Every quest for power is actually a quest for home, of defining home for you and others.
Novels, movies - almost in everything and anything that stirs us, finding way home is an emotion that is more exploited / expressed by artists than any other theme sans that of love. Even in love its almost finding home, its just beside someone other than the physical space defined by some walls or piece of land. 
And finding this space, emotionally and physically is sometimes the most arduous journey we can ever take.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Feminism Around Us

Avg well educated Indian Girl - that's me.
Have had a decent education.
Has a decent job to take care of her own expenses. 
Not dependent on family - for her indulgences - be it shopping, travel or anything else.
Who knows how to speak her mind.
Who knows how to care.
Who knows what being a "bitch" = "mean" means; 
tries her best not to indulge in that emotion.
Who has the social circle of women around her with almost the same means in life.

So, feminism which is a strong core value for any educated woman should have almost the same expression for her as for other women around her!
Yet, no, it's very different to most of the women she knows. 

I am not advocating that my way of feminism is right, or others are wrong. 
Each to her own, but the other ways made me wonder, and hence this post. 

I see women around me screaming feminism when their boyfriend or husband asks for a cup of coffee! Yet the same women when are emotionally bullied by their boyfriend and husband - don't even notice....
In college, I had this whole bunch of girls around me all for supremacy of woman, but when it came to brass stacks, they told me to accept that in the end I am the daughter of "Eve", I have certain duties to perform which should be fine as women still rule the world by ruling the men. (yes, big eye-roll) 
At workplace, if the female force is dominant, they would gang up a male colleague and usually the one who is more sensitive to male female equality - while the same women would give in to what we traditionally call "MCPs" by saying "oh, what a man!"
At parties, the fav. jokes are on men women habits - again bracketing / limiting how they operate - is actually a subtle way to say - that's how they should operate. 

These are quite common situations. I wonder how does crying and using the word feminism at the drop of the hat after every three lines helps! 
Feminism is not or has ever been about putting men down.

Coming to some recent incidents - a lot of people around me called the movie "Dangal" pseudo feminism - I fail to understand this emotion too! 
In movie Dangal - the male protagonist is raising the first generation of liberated women - not second or third. Ideas floating around of how the women are again a subject of a "male" fulfilling his dreams and not asking them what they want to do - is hilarious and living in utopian land. What did they expect Mr. Phogat - a man in rural India who himself is without high education to do - to ask his daughters if they want to become astronauts or doctors or painters and then work his ass off to enable that!!! the rules of asking and sensitivity apply from second or third generation of "liberated" women, not the first. 

On the contrary, everyone loved the movie "Angry Goddesses". For me, it was banal, as though one can only make a statement about women strength by showing rape as the main theme.  

My fav. example of feminism are the last scenes from the movie "Queen" - where the girl goes and silently returns the engagement ring to her would be mother-in-law. Any other movie, any other script writer - it would have called for a long speech of how the girl has discovered herself, and about women empowerment. Yet, in that scene - she remains quiet, just returns the ring and moves on. 

People who cry the loudest, usually act the least. 
Using the word "feminism" in Facebook posts, or in one's everyday talk doesn't get one anywhere. Like Madonna put it rightly in her Billboard Awards Speech "There are lot of men worth backing, not because they are men, but because they are worthy". 
Ditto for women - just because a female around you is going on about women rights - doesn't mean one has to back her to show solidarity to women - but only if her ideas are worth it. 

Most of the women around me, thankfully are "Geeta" (taking from movie Dangal again) or a step ahead even from that - where they can take forward the spirit more, by questioning more, by giving more freedom to the next generation.

Taking comfort in only screaming feminism and giving in to one's abusive boy friend is not feminism.
Ganging up on your male colleague or giving him long lines on women empowerment is not feminism.
Not letting your 4 year old son join a dance school as that might make him soft is a direct negation of one's so called "feminist" ideals.
Not correcting your daughter's poor math skills while she still has a chance of improving - by saying "It's OK, women are usually bad at maths" is killing feminism.

Having utopian ideas about feminism is cool, it sets the bar high... but doesn't help if it only means criticizing those who are doing something (as per their means) about it. It's better than nothing!

For me personally, feminism only means equality. I don't step on your freedom, you don't step on mine. And since more often than not, females are stepped on in ways unknown even to them only because of their gender, this word helps them to focus, identify and correct the imbalance.
Hopefully, soon we are able to do away with this word itself - is my utopia!     

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Men Women Relation

A very, very, very tricky subject to pen one's thoughts on!
And I am no expert. I am not even married yet... for a few to say that how would I know how the dynamics change between a man and a woman after "marriage".
I agree, I may not, but one understands a lot of things by observing, listening and seeing around. My view on this topic is part through experience, and partially through observing the relations around me.
Stereotypes: We Love To Indulge In
Women love to shop! Men don't care about this or that! Women are naggers! Men are better at Maths! Men if married will have to say sorry in end!
All such jokes, marriage jokes, relationship jokes - are not funny. 
May be I have a screwed sense of humor. 
I don't enjoy the jokes on men, not on women - none that promote in any convoluted way that women = pink, men = blue, women = dolls, men = star wars, women = poor math skills, men = carefree, women = gossip!
And yet - I have seen some very educated men & women make such statements and it's usually to get the attention in the group.
Majority of women around me are better in maths, they know how to keep the boat going, they don't gossip, they don't nag, and they are not stubborn.
Similarly, majority of men around me are sensitive, they know household chores, they take off from work to adjust baby sitting with their spouse. 
Hence, when someone makes these jokes - I wonder - why the walk back to the caveman mentality! But for some reason - its supposed to be funny /  it's just a "joke" / don't take life too seriously /  we don't really mean that - Don't Make Sense to Me. 
An acquaintance told me that it's sexy to have such elements in a relation as that is what differentiates a man and a woman. She couldn't understand my eye roll till brain.  
Such ideas are like subtle rape jokes, and rape jokes are not funny from any angle. 
Indulgence in such stereotypes is insult to years of good education. 
Don't teach your daughters that they can do anything - as you just killed a lot of their free spirit by equating it to a nagging woman. Don't teach your sons that they can do anything - as you just killed their sensitive side by saying that men are not detail oriented. 
Generalizations don't help anyone, ever. 
Every man, woman is unique and their relation more so. 

Men have to be the bread-earners
In most cases than not, even if the women are working, they expect their "male" partners to be better earning in a relation. I understand this in a marriage where in a women may take up extra chores around the house - like cooking, arranging, maintaining the household more than a man would pick up these same chores... but in a relation where these points even out (yes, I know married couples who even do household work equally) - all the talk about feminism with your girlfriends don't work - if this is what one believes in. 
And it's down right hilarious to put this pressure on a boyfriend when you both have almost the same freedom to chase your careers.  
This also brings us to the fact that most women take a break in the career to focus on babies, or just themselves. While men out of job are frowned upon! "why?" don't they have a right to take it easy in life sometime. If a couple together can sustain finances for sometime, why can't a man take a break from the job if he wishes to! That doesn't make him irresponsible, or lazy or a loser. He is being a human, he is subjected to stress at work too, he most probably has been working all his life and needs to breathe for sometime. 
A well-to-do couple around me had a serious strain in their relation due to this fact. The husband fell out from his job, and it was as though a constant failure on the husband's part to plan things better! Telling them to take it easy doesn't work as they operate on the traditional set up - I take care of house and kids, you should take care of job better. Result: Wife is mostly bitter, the husband guilty, depressed - which further strains the relation and the situation. Telling them to switch roles is seen as a ridiculous idea. In such cases, please don't champion man woman equality - as one is not following it. Feminism is about equality, not putting men down. 
Its OK for men to earn less"er" than you, Its OK for men to take a break from work.

The "One" Romantic Trophy Bearer
Indulging in the same stereotypes, women are supposed to be more romantic. 
But think of one romantic couple that you know of, and mostly it's the man in that relation that would take the lead! and that is why you think of that couple as 'romantic'.
Reality Check: No relation is romantic if only one partner indulges, atleast not for long!
Yet, how do men get this trophy - as women hand it out very generously themselves. 
There's no harm in men holding that trophy, but I have seen in a lot of relations - even the men forget what their wife or girlfriend does. 
Like this friend I know, was gushing over the 'cake with a perfect romantic note' sent by her husband on her birthday while he was overseas. This only led to more romantic things the considerate husband had done for her. The husband was all the time sitting and basking in the glory of all "ooh" "aahs" "awww". Fair enough. The same couple has another evening on the same topic - and by chance am present there again! I know my friend apart from providing romantic touches in the relation now and then, has gifted her husband his fav. golf set, his fav. stereo system, the mobile and much more. My comment of mentioning how lucky they are to find each other as my friend had gifted so and so and so to him so lovingly only brought the attention to her for the first time in all the years I have known them.
My act of balancing the scale was only known to me, I don't think even the couple realized it. But in retrospect its important. In reverse, if as a female you are known for keeping the romance alive - notice clearly - your partner would be doing something for you to keep going. One needs to notice those details and acknowledge. 
Romanticism is a trophy held by both - by the couple, or after some time - that's a title no longer associated with the relation.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

We, Weight & One Track Mind

We all know this, but its been over a year of my active noticing - that every person (at least around me) engaged daily in minimum one thought or more related to weight! be it their own or others... 
Every Single Day. & its Definitely more than one thought! 

We don't spare a thought for our family for days, or our loved ones, or (weeks) for our best friend who would walk miles in the toughest time for us, but weight - yes, that lovely vain thought catches us every day of our life, and sneaks into our thoughts, and not for good reasons, but mostly critical.
"My hard work seems to be paying off, yes, tomorrow I shall weigh even lesser"
"Damn, I shouldn't have had that beer last night"
"I need to check with my coworker on her diet.. she seems to be losing so rapidly"
"More of protein, quinoa, barley water, not even a drop of butter, no mango, no banana" 
"Calorie control, calorie control...."
and so on...
Even if one is in shape, we don't let ourselves relax, and also not stop ourselves from giving free unsolicited advice to others.

This hit me in the face as I am just back from a yoga retreat (kind of!) and all I got asked even before anyone wished me "Hi, welcome back to the world" was "How Much Did You Lose". My answers like "Quite a few active days that I urgently needed to organize things, but will manage.. blah blah"  or ".... many dollars, or you wanna know in rupees or any other currency" will get a laugh as a response "you know what I mean"

Actually, I don't or want to (esp. when its the first q even before one starts a conversation)
Hey... It wasn't a weight loss camp that I enrolled in!
In fact, told a friend that by asking me that question if she is insisting that I am "obese" enough to enroll for those specialized "Spa-Weight Loss Special Homes". Comes the quick reply "Oh, come on I didn't mean that... was just curious".
I really want to know why are we so obsessed with how many pounds we weigh. I remember my friend in college telling me that she never thought she was like a sack of potatoes as this was one of the first question prospective groom families asked her father "how much your daughter weighs".

How many people do we know who weigh just right!!!
Even the people who are in right range wish to go towards the lower side. Hence, its a never ending fight we have with ourselves, and also subject the same cruelty to the people around us. In Yoga ashram - my body surprised me, I was able to bend it backwards, forwards, sideways, lift it, turn it... may be not as smoothly as other yogis, but quite efficiently to be at average in the class of 50 plus students - many who have spent years practicing yoga. I could cope up! My body could cope up! It didn't ache or cramp or said I can't.. It had its limitations as I have never been part of active physical exercise routine but it didn't give up.

One would think that being a part of Yoga Ashram, on campus one would be saved. Of course not, if there are humans, can weight talk be far behind. "So what diets are you into" "Did you weigh yourself" "We are not getting enough protein here" "How do you balance your carbs and protein" "Have you tried no carb diet" .. were the main conversations in the women dorm. And to say they were all mostly very fit healthy women!
But even with them, they thought it was a sin to let their brain rest on this topic. One couldn't change the diet while on campus, you ate what you got! So it wasn't like - if one didn't talk about protein or flax seeds or barley water or share notes on diets, one would wake up with extra 5 pounds.

This is not a post about embracing all body types. Its about sharing my thoughts on calorie-mania, weight-mania that plagues all our lives. Being conscious of health is good, but obsessing over it after every two hours or so is another. 
I have found my own way to this, as long as one is not out of proportion (we all have a body frame and one knows when one is falling out of one's skin), can see one's toes, can walk a mile / take flight of stairs without panting, can be active physically - I think one is good.
What good it is to be of right weight - when all you talk about is back aches, fainting, high or low BP and swollen feet! Better be 10 pounds over your indicated weight range and be able to trek, run, be active, be energetic.

It is about how we limit ourselves by judging the people the moment we meet by how they look - which is mostly about their "weight" - fat or thin or average, abs or no abs, muscles or no muscles, into fitness or not into fitness - signals that our brain sends us unconsciously. We need to stop them, check them and not let them come into one's mind. This can be a tall order as we are so deeply programmed by the society. But we all need to learn not to be dismissive, or be full of advice or be insulting or think they have some health problem  - just cause they are over weight as per us. This can only be when we learn not to cry out loud appreciatively we see someone with good body 'stats'.
Hence, refraining our selves from always talking about people's bodies, checking & correcting if our respect or liking for the person is mostly rooted in how fit they look. Only when we stop talking, noticing others abs for sometime - do we tell our brain to engage in better thoughts.

As they said in Yoga Ashram - sometimes the journey is from physical to mental to spiritual.
Refrain from engaging in weight related thoughts.
Be kind to yourself, be kind to others.
If one is fit, keep at it, if not - work towards it.
If one is on a diet - keep shut and follow it - not announce, discuss when out eating with others. Politely refuse, pick what you want and move on.
Yes, one can smile and do whatever one feels like - Even EAT - Even eat only lettuce at a feast - without discussing proteins, carbs or calories, and fancy diet names. 
One can digest food easily without commenting on other person's food habits - others having loads of  butter or no butter, others eating only lettuce while you eat your pie, others having just plain water & no food while you twirl the spaghetti on the fork!
Eating and Digesting is an individual task, we need to "learn" not to bother about other adults who can care for themselves.
Not making 'my body' and 'others bodies' a highlight of my life. Making my health my concern. Learning to make my mind 'weight free' - is something am working hard at!    

Monday, 14 November 2016

Venice: Romance Capital of the World

Trust me, it's not just me...
In Gordon Korman's book - One False Note; Nellie says, "I always wanted to go to Venice. It's supposed to be the romance capital of the world."
Or to quote Woody Allen, "Venice is the most romantic place in the world but it’s even better
when there is no one around."
Or imagine someone like Friedrich Nietzsche saying, “When I seek another word for ‘music’, I never find any other word than ‘Venice’.”

    Need I say anything more!

I was in Venice with for 4 days. The city is nothing like you would see anywhere in the world. The boat from the airport leaves after every 30 minutes and is the best way to travel to the city. The first view of the city feels surreal. It feels as though you are entering another time, or is one a part of a movie set? One cannot tell.

Venice is also known as the "floating city". Its origins are traced to 420 A.D when after the fall of Roman Empire, Venetians realized that they can no longer survive on the mainland. Hence, they sought refuge on these marshy lands. Initially what started as a temporary settlement, soon became a major hub of culture, trade, arts in the world. The city became an important center during Renaissance, along with Florence and Rome, in Italy. While Florentines were known as great thinkers, Venetians came to be known as "great doers" since they had built a city on marshy grounds from nothing and had fought the deadly malaria.  Henry III is famously remembered for saying, “If I were not King of France, I would choose to be a citizen of Venice.” In current times, city thrives mainly on tourism and is one of the most visited city in the world.

I thought I can never walk in any city as much as I have walked in Manhattan. 
Was I wrong! Venice is all about walking. The two best options to travel in Venice are - public water taxi or by foot. Public water taxi is one way, that is takes a circle around the city, so the best bet you have for exploring the city is on foot. 

The city a labyrinth of narrow lanes with wind gushing through them, lanes which are alive with buzzing cafes, boutiques, gondolas and shops of all sorts. There are directions made on the building walls - above the eye level. Look out for them or you can be really lost. My friend's watch had a compass which came in more than handy while strolling through the endless streets.

Everyone finds their own way of understanding the city route - for us, there were two ends - Rialto and St. Mark Square. Piazza San Marco is impressive and breath taking. That's the most beautiful and impressive side of Venice. High end fashion shops, lovely hotels, adorable cafes all mark this area. With history in every corner, a place where you can spend an entire day. 
Rialto, which I personally liked quite a bit, is a buzzing center of activity. Has quite an old world charm to it. It is the commercial, financial center and has many street artists performing near it. Dances, masked people with odd tricks, magicians... the place has the pulse of live tourist center. 
Street performances are a highlight of this city and one needs to slow down, stand, watch, appreciate to soak in the vibe.

In the evening, to walk outside, laze outside a cafe and enjoy (my fav) Capricciosa Pizza, beer and watch the crowd go by... man! I want to go back there! 
I have no idea what we eat in name of pizza anywhere outside Italy. Italy ruined the flavor of pizza for me first few months after I was back from there, thankfully slowly my taste buds are back to their numbed version.  
I will never forget the flavor of my first pizza there which just melted in my mouth. Its a sin to eat anything other than pizza while you are there!
My friend would make us walk to find that perfect cafe which was less commercial or 'touristy' or 'American', had more of home touch. We ended up exploring some lovely food places there. It is a food lovers paradise. Lovely ice creams - like I haven't seen anywhere in the world - topped with cream, syrup and wafer. Best coffee, crisp fresh salads, lovely soups and out of this world pizzas.
And to top it "romance is in the air". Couples just walking by hand in hand, some guy singing on the gondola, loud chit chat and laughter around,  a violin or an accordion or saxophone or a flute player playing outside some cafe where there are more couples! 

Murano and Burano are two islands close by - both which can be covered in a single trip on any afternoon. The boats to these islands leave every 40 minutes or so from the ferry station that comes after the Venice Train Station. Murano is just glass factories, while Burano is more busy with cafes, colored houses and loads of shops with lace work. 

A lot of time we travel to shut the world out, but usually that means going back to the nature, himalayas or some retreat. Venice is one place where you step into another world. Its an old city, with slow pace, lazy days, and cultural evenings. Attend an opera, or musical concert, or a play or just stroll in the city - the place is a cocoon of love, warmth and intimacy. A bit like walking in the clouds in one's dream.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

5 Slokas to Know (& to Impress)

The festival season just got over, and I noticed a lot of detailing this year. Apart from the decoration, food, even the pooja this year was quite elaborate - with a pandit presiding the prayer service almost everywhere. With today's fast paced life, it's not expected to know ancient chants - to see me reciting them along with the priest - a lot of friends and family were impressed. And there were quite a few that I didn't know, and they sounded so good to my ears that I wanted to learn them.
Hence, comes this post - few mantras and slokas that are quite common and heard frequently - with their complete meaning.

What are Mantras?
Mantras are vedic hymns that are repeated to aid concentration in meditation. The word has two parts "Mann" that is the mind, and "tra" that means instrument. Hence, the instrument of mind - the sounds that help one in reaching and aiding meditation. Chanting the mantras induce vibrations - no wonder - they sound so soothing to one's ears.

What are Slokas?
Sloka means a song. These are songs that are usually dedicated in praise of God. During our prayers, most of the couplets recited are slokas. Slokas make for a powerful prayer, help in concentration and peaceful mind. They have meter, structure and melody. Slokas are mostly couplets, these couplets when put together form a chapter called "Adhyaya". A collection of "Adhyayas" then become a holy book - such as Ramayana or Mahabharata which are exclusively written in verse / slokas.

Difference between Mantra & Sloka     

Both are soothing and help in concentration, meditation.
While there are Slokas for almost every deity in Hindu religion, here I elaborate on the ones mostly recited by my mother and few which I found very soothing.

 Top 5 Slokas to Know & Impress

1.  Vishnu Stuti - Shanta Karam

My personal favorite as it sounds so majestic! At home, my mother usually recites this at the end of the prayers.

शान्ताकारं भुजगशयनं पद्मनाभं सुरेशं
विश्वाधारं गगनसदृशं मेघवर्ण शुभाङ्गम् ।
लक्ष्मीकान्तं कमलनयनं योगिभिर्ध्यानगम्यम्
वन्दे विष्णुं भवभयहरं सर्वलोकैकनाथम् ॥

Shanta Karam, Bhujag Shayanam, Padma Naabham, Suresham
Vishwa aaddharam, Gagan Sadrasham, Megh-varnam, Subha-gyaam
Lakshmi Kantam, Kamal Nainam, Yogi Bhir Dhyan Gamyam
Vande Vishnu Bhava bhaya Harnam, Sarvo Lokay Naathnam

This is in praise of Lord Vishnu who:
- Has a serene peaceful appearance, rests on a serpent, has a lotus coming out if his navel, is the lord of the lords.
- Is the keeper of the universe, is infinite like the sky,  has the blue colour of the clouds and is most attractive.
- Is the husband of Goddess Lakshmi, has eyes like lotus, can only be realised by Yogis through meditation.
- Obeisance to Vishnu who dispels the fear of worldly existence / rebirths, is the supreme Lord of all realms.

2. Tvameva Mata - Also called the song of surrender, it is dedicated to God, Guru or anyone to whom one expresses complete surrender. Many believe that this was recited by Queen Gandhari, mother of Kauravas, to Lord Krishna. 

त्वमेव माता च पिता त्वमेव ।
त्वमेव बन्धुश्च सखा त्वमेव ।
त्वमेव विद्या द्रविणम् त्वमेव ।
त्वमेव सर्वम् मम देव देव ॥

Tva-meva, Maataa, cha, Pitaa, Tva-meva
Tva-meva Bandhush Sakhaa Tva-meva
Tva-meva Vidya Dravinnam Tva-meva
Tva-meva Sarvam Mama Deva Deva

- You are my, mother, and, you are my, father .
- You are my, relative, you are my, friend.
- You are my, knowledge,  you are my, wealth.
- You are my, all-everything, my, God, of Gods.

3. Shiva Stuti - Karpuragauram Karunavtaaram

कर्पूरगौरं करुणावतारं
संसारसारम् भुजगेन्द्रहारम् ।
सदावसन्तं हृदयारविन्दे
भवं भवानीसहितं नमामि ॥

Karpura-Gauram, Karuna-Avataaram
Sansaara-Saaram, Bhuja ganedra Haaram
Sadaa-Vasantam, Hridaya Aravinde
Bhavam, Bhavani Sahitam, Namaami

This is in praise of Lord Shiva. Lord Shiva who
- is pure like camphor, is a personification of compassion.
- is the whole world, has king of serpent as his garland. 
- always resides, in hearts like lotus. (Lotus is untouched by the muddy waters it is born in, similarly, Lord Shiva resides in the hearts that are as pure as Lotus, untouched by the world around them)
- To the Lord (Shiva), accompanied by the Goddess, I bow to them.

4. Ganesh Stuti - Vakratunda Mahakaya 

वक्रतुण्ड महाकाय
 सूर्यकोटि समप्रभ ॥
निर्विघ्नं कुरु मे देव
सर्वकार्येषु सर्वदा ॥

Vakra Tunda, Maha Kaaya,
Surya Koti, Samaprabha
Nirvi-ghnam, Kuru, Me, Deva
Sarva-karya-eshu, Sarvadaa

This is praise of and prayer to - Lord Ganesha. Lord Ganesha who:
- has curved trunk, massive body
- has brilliance of millions of sun. (Surya - Sun, Koti - Millions, Sama - equal, Prabha - splendor)
- Please make all my work obstacle free. (Nirvi - None, Ghnam - obstacle, Kuru - Give, Me - me, Deva - Lord, Sarva karya eshu - all endeveaors, Sarvada - Always)

5. Parvati Stuti - Sarva-Mangala-Mangalye 

शिवे सर्वार्थसाधिके ।
शरण्ये त्र्यम्बके गौरि
नारायणि नमोऽस्तु ते ॥

Shive, Sarvartha-Sadhike
Sharanaye, Treh-ambike, Gauri
Narayani, Namoh-stutey

Goddess Parvati is worshipped as Shakti, meaning power. She is source of power for everything, and has many forms - Lakshmi, Durga, Chandi, Kali.
For the last line, there are two schools of thought - that is over the name "Narayani". As per one, Narayani is another name for consort of Vishnu - hence, they use this mantra to show that Lakshmi and Parvati is one, thereby confirming Shakti - Power as one supreme deity which is manifested in many forms.While the other, takes Narayani as sister of Narayan, which is usually taken as Durga, which in turn is a part of Parvati, thereby saying that Narayani is another name for Goddess Parvati - to whom this whole mantra is dedicated.

This in in praise of Goddess Parvati, who
- is the auspiciousness (positiveness) of all auspiciousness
- Consort of Shiva, who fulfills all desires
- gives refuge, is three eyed, has a shinning face
- Consort of Vishnu /  Parvati as Narayani, I bow before you.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Older Than History: Varanasi

'Varanasi' - if someone said that word a week back – all that came to my mind was... an underdeveloped town of India, narrow lanes buzzing with crowd, river Ganga that's getting hurt by all the population explosion. Had someone asked for more detail – as why would it be so important a city… I would end up giving an answer along the lines that "in ancient times, this might be the best place for mankind to access river Ganga and thus, it became an important seat of civilization and blah blah…"
That was a week back… today...I stand in awe of this city know a place where one feels as though time has stood still…. 
(despite the muck, the dirt, the crowd…which all remains) one can't ignore the fact that how this teenie weenie city can impact one's senses.
I landed here due to my friend's persistence. “Do you know it will be mega crowded?” “Do you know it's not so clean.” After I realized that my friend really wishes to explore the place…I just packed my bags and went along. Here is where the irony hits... first view of the city and I am floored. 

Call it my imagination… but even the air reeked of history! When they say Varanasi is older than history, I knew what it meant. It was like coming home to a place where time has stood still…not because it had to, but because it chose to...because that’s the way it should be. With every breath and every step in that city, I knew I was breathing in history. I could not believe that such a place exists and that in all these years, this timeless jewel that is just 1.5 hours away for me…I had never even thought of exploring!

So to all of you out there…who still haven’t been to this place – maybe these lines by Mark Twain might inspire you "Benaras is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together!"

What's in a name? Kashi, Banaras, Varanasi... This confusion was cleared by simple yet quite learned boatman whom we met in Varanasi. Kashi is the old name for the city, in today's time - Varanasi is how Hindus call the city while Muslim population prefers to call it Banaras. 

A city as old and as fascinating as this - has various studies on its history that date back to 3000 BC and more. Kashi is believed to be built by Lord Shiva. River Ganges which flows from tresses of lord Shiva finds its full mighty form here and has the power to wash away anyone's sins who bathes in it. Not only that, anyone who breathes his last in this holy city is considered to be free of life-death cycle, and becomes a part of Lord Shiva.  

Some tips on traveling to this land - from a person who knew nothing about it, but explored it on foot nonstop for two days.

- Stay near the Ghats: When we started to book, all the 4 & 5-star hotels were sold out! At one point I thought my friend and I might have to put up in those neat B&B dormitory set up which are plenty in Varanasi. It has to be luck - last moment found this heritage Haveli run by ITC on the Ghats. None of the places near the Ghat have a bar license, and almost all have "not so great" kitchen. However, all this pales when one has a good location. Else, any hotel away from the Ghats is similar to just another hotel, another city anywhere. Staying at the Ghats makes you stroll through the Ghats whenever you wish to - the reason why one is there!

- Evening Aarti: It's an orchestrated slow dance, with all the color, show, music, pause, and movement. We watched it while sitting in the boat. It's an experience like none other. A must do. The best aarti is of Dashashwamedh Ghat and Rajendra Prasad Ghat - which are adjacent to each other. Both the Ghats' aarti is more or less similar to one another. 

What is important is to soak in, blend in with the chants, the sweet sound of bells, the lights of diyas and the atmosphere which can only be disturbed - thanks to mosquitoes... rub an insect repellent generously on your arms and legs.

- Walk, Walk, Walk: Walking in the streets of Banaras on the weekend of RangBhari Ekadashi might seem brave (the day when Lord Shiva & Goddess Parvati consummate their marriage - locals celebrate this quite elaborately by prayers and celebrations throughout the city; also marks for them to start playing Holi, festival of colors). What seemed bravery was pure ignorance on our part and we soon learned the tradition after getting hit few times by colored balloons. Thanks to Holi, we also saw once a year event of music, dance being performed along with Holi colors on Manikarnika Ghat - the main cremation ghat. 
The colored balloons did not deter us from walking through the bylanes of Kashi Vishwanath Temple, and the maze of streets beside the ghats. Only then one comes across the various shops that are unique like we found the most amazing adult coloring books tucked in one of the shops there. While there was another shop that had the most wonderful spray batik paintings. On one of the ghats - there was this 'right out of the movie set' bylane that had grass, leaves, and marigold flowers as the roof, and the sadhus sleeping in line under it... straight out of a photographer's book!  There are so many lanes, who knows what you might find in one... so walk to see where it takes you. 

- Try Street Food: After every shop, there is a tiny paan shop.. try banarasi paan - which is light, and easy on the palette. Apart from that - tiny samosas, kachoris with aloo chana, gol gappas, and the tea ... have a distinctive flavor which is quite nice. 

- Shop Sarees / Silk: Beautiful artistry - almost anywhere, everywhere you turn your neck. The map for Varanasi lanes for me is a paan shop, then a sari shop, then a temple, and repeat. There are quite a few shops, but this wholesale dealer Abdul Matin at Pilikothi - walking distance from Ghats has quite a collection and claimed to supply most of the material for Bajirao Mastani movie! You can bargain here, but only a bit. Rest in any other shop anywhere in Varanasi, do not hesitate to slash it by 50% or more... you would be surprised on how quickly they might agree. 

- Click: It's a photographer's paradise. No matter from where you click, how you click, you are sure to capture some amazing shots. Shades of Ganges at different time of the day, of people around the ghats, of the aarti, of diyas, of lanes, of sadhus meditating... click away as much as you want and you won't regret. I clicked very few pics, as I thought isn't it captured enough... but having one's own album is something different. 

The writer Tahir Shah says in his book - Sorcerer's Apprentice “Enlightenment, and the death which comes before it, is the primary business of Varanasi.” 
I really do not know about enlightenment, about nirvana, about moksha, about salvation from sins - all this and more that this city is associated with. 
But I do know about enchantment - it left me enchanted and with a desire to know more about it.