Monday, September 22, 2008

On my periappa's passing

On my periappa’s passing

I lost my Periappa last Sunday. I did not think his> passing would hit me as hard as it did. I spent a> day in quiet meditation melancholic over the somber> tone that my life had taken. I had to be all grown> up now. My father and his brother grew up very> close. However, later years were marred by sibling> rivalry with each vying with the other to get the> more attractive wife, the better career, better kids> and in their later years more numbers of letters to> the editor published. While the families remained> close, the brothers were barely civil to each other> and wrote each other scathing notes. Then there were the occasional arguments over the> phone. In later years, the families learnt to watch> on with amusement. However, I realized how close> they really were when my father suddenly succumbed> to cancer and passed away within two short months of> his diagnosis. My periappa, his senior by 5 years> never did overcome his death and lived for another> three years incessantly expressing his shock over> the sudden passing of his brother. He appeared to go downhill> from then on. It almost seems now like each had> needed the other to achieve what they did. They did> it for the other’s attention. > > My periappa was a monumental influence in all our> lives. He was brilliant and courageous, an original> thinker and visionary. He was an artist and> cartoonist who attained great fame as a political> satirist, with cartoons published in several Indian> publications, Life and the New York Times. His> friends were the “who’s who” of the old Madras literati. He was widely admired. He was not always popular since he spoke his mind and his words were often sugar coated bitter pills. It was his abiding passion to bring out the best and worst in people that imbued him with this desire to needle them and watch. He has brought forth many a tear with his constant demand for excellence. He treated us as his equals in age, regaling us with tales on many topics that are still taboo in our tam brahm circles. He practised yoga before it was fashionable and spoke fluent French even though he had never traveled outside India until after he was 50 years old. He also went on to establish one of the first computer centres in India His commitment to education and passionate zeal to better lives lead him to become a distance education entrepreneur. On his later travels he is known to have cartooned his way in through customs – he would literally sketch people as he stood in line much to their joy and wonderment. In many ways he was my mentor and guide and perhaps the most influential person in my life. He made me believe in the impossible – after all had he not gotten up from the depths of debt induced penury to become a very wealthy man by the age 60!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

What it means to be a refugee

The word refugee conjures up different images for different people. However, because its use is so widespread its true meaning is lost on us. We are desensitized to the fact that every refugee has a compelling story of untold hardship that is indelibly theirs, the trauma from which they will perhaps never overcome. This came home to me when a member of my staff, who has a joyful disposition, shared with me the poignant story of her partner and his experiences growing up in a refugee camp till he was a teenager and before making the treacherous trip by boat to Canada . His first exposure to an educational institution was in Canada and to his credit he learnt English, mastered high school Math and Physics and then went on complete a graduate degree in Engineering. However, she said, he has had to give up his private sector job in recent times due to inexplicable pains he is experiencing all over his body. Finally, the diagnosis is repetitive strain injury, coupled with trauma from past experiences fraught with tragedy, over the loss of a parent to starvation in the camp, and the strain of adapting to a new world. These stories abound. I now think about the many people whose paths have crossed mine and who have lived the refugee experience. Those who have shared their stories have stunned me with their composure and resilience. What we forget though is that they bear their pain within them, even when they are brave on the outside. They need a lifetime of compassion. Yet in this country most continue to be poor and exploited. Canada may have a great human rights record for accepting refugees. However, we do question the authenticity of the thousands who make the treacherous journey here. With all the barriers that we place before them, we don’t ease their transition. Lets not turn our back on those who come to our shores for help, or second guess their motives. And the next time we meet someone who tells us they came here as a refugee, lets stop and take heed that they have a lifetime of experience, while we may have only scratched the surface.

To marry or not to marry

We have all been raised with notions of what course our lives should take. Marriage, preferably with a member of the opposite sex, is one milestone that several of us aspire to. It is also seen as the passport to bearing offspring – another desirable milestone to attain. Now throw ambition and surviving in a competitive world in the mix. Will the twain ever meet? Can someone who wants to find a partner of choice actualise that into a marriage union and living happily ever after, what with work deadlines and pressures, global travel and the choice of passing flirtations which do not tie one down.? A difficult question. So lets deconstruct the issue for a closer look. What makes marriage elusive, do we need it and what do we do if we decide it is for us?

Today, the home and work divide is very much more blurred with laptops entering our bedrooms, television offering an escape into fantasy and “take out” and “order ins” being the rule and not the exception. A homemaker kept a home, made meals and possibly nurtured the soul. Enter the digital era in which women who fulfilled that role are no longer raised to think of themselves in that role and the job of the homemaker has been restructured out. So women are competing in the marketplace and juggling challenging jobs which require strategic decision-making, presiding over millions of dollars and negotiating tough bosses and unrealistic deadlines. They need to be nurtured just as much as their male counterparts. Each one has a fire in her belly to do it all. For men and equally for women, thumbing their noses at lucrative jobs outside the home is considered tantamount to dropping out of everything that is socially acceptable. The result, men and women really do not have the time or the inclination to work at anything else, let alone their personal lives. There is little motivation and or incentive except this image of marriage, children and “happily ever after” born of social conditioning which is blurred at best. It is definitely disconnected from their reality of long days at work, hanging it all out with friends in the evenings, sleeping in and addressing housework with a casual indifference - thankful that the furniture does not protest and the sink does not moan when it is piled high. Shopping, staying current with the look, to keep the job, are all competing priorities that trump domesticity.

What do I mean by marriage? Is marriage as we know it even relevant ? If it is then what do we do to make it happen? When I say marriage, I refer to a committed relationship, that may or may not have society’s blessings. Let me postulate that a good marriage is a worthy goal to aspire to. Whether it should be death do us part is another matter. What distinguishes true marriage from other relationships is the notion of sharing life. That sounds cliché, but bear with me there is some depth to this statement. We are gregarious beings and more than anything want someone to bear witness to our lives. We have a good or bad day, a funny or frustrating day, we want to let someone else know. However, we need a safe space within which to express it, where we will not be judged, but may be comforted, validated, constructively criticised or just simply listened to. No matter what advances we make in our careers or in the material conditions of our lives, we are mortal human beings with an inner core that seeks the elusive and seeks to be nourished. The only way we can obtain that nourishment is by having a place where we can make ourselves completely vulnerable. A true partner witnesses our vulnerability as we do theirs. They do not use that information, do not manipulate, control or threaten us with it. They just accept it as our state of being as we do theirs. Can we get this elsewhere? Probably from friends and, if we are lucky, parents and siblings. However, since our lives are so busy and we need predictability, there needs to be the formality of a contractual arrangement that will facilitate this. Further, we are at our most vulnerable when we bare ourselves physically and emotionally and, under ideal circumstances we do that in a marriage more than anywhere else.

For us to be involved in a committed relationship, we must want it. However, wanting does not mean predisposing ourselves to the form it is going to take. This is tricky. If we have created an image of the person and their many attributes, we are constantly engaged in an exercise of measuring people to our pre-set standard. How would we like being measured up every time? We would not. So what should we do then? Well, every time we feel the urge to measure someone, we bring our awareness to what it is we are trying to do. We will gradually find ourselves doing it less and less. When we stop measuring then we stop having expectations. Now, I tread on dangerous ground here. Does this mean we give another license to do anything they want and have them get away with it. Basically yes. However, when we take the pressure off the other person to be a certain way, they will be most comfortable with us and may even do much of what we want them to do. We are also happier because we would not have hitched our sense of self on the validation we get from another living up to our expectations – ie I am worthy of their love because they do exactly what I want them to. So lets all lighten up young men and women. Lets open ourselves to possibilities and not be imprisoned by our preconceptions. Lets know that thoughts do not determine our destiny, only awareness does. Therefore, lets welcome with open arms the adventure of life without preset ideas, social conditioning of the way things should be and.. just be. Live every moment with complete acceptance of it the way it is and people as they are. We will then not be engaged in a constant conflict which results from the present not living up to our ideas of the past or our hopes for the future. Ultimately, here is a liberating thought, our realities are socially constructed. With the intelligence and resourcefulness you young folks have, you can make it up as you go along. Do it. Be selfless and compassionate, be willing to accept and you will be accepted. Nurture and you will be nurtured. Let life not be about having trophy partners. Let them be about having real ones.

The Sensuous Experience of Saree Shopping

The Sensuous Experience of Saree Shopping

South Indian women share a unique and sensuous experience. It is saree shopping. At our house, the expedition is usually preceded by an elaborate plan. Who are we buying for? What mode of transportation should we take? How early in the morning should we leave? Should it be before or after lunch? Which stores should we visit? Here we usually lapse into minor skirmishes with our mother pointing out how the stores my sister and I pick are grossly overpriced and with us responding, “but amma we pay for the comfort”. Finally we all happily compromise and settle on a route that will make optimal use of our time and pocket book. Usually if we receive a phone call from friends and they have an empty slot at the opportune time when we are planning our expedition, we ask them to come along to check out the latest “Alli Darbar” or “Aamrapali” sarees. Retired aunts and relatives who do not get to visit saree shops often, jump at the chance to follow a purposeful entourage. So what starts out with three persons ends up becoming a train of about 6. Men in our respective households heave sighs of relief at the sight of our departing backs, in anticipation of a restful day and, if possible, a long and undisturbed afternoon siesta.

The older women instruct the neophytes on the importance of caring for their gold chains in a crowd of enthusiastic shoppers. Thus properly prepared we embark on our adventure usually in a couple of autorickshaws, 3 persons to one, or squeeze into a car. We chat gaily along the way, about who wears what kind of saree, which colour would suit whom, why some people wear similar colours all the time or muse aloud about how we could possibly find a colour that “so and so” did not have.

Arriving at the store, we rush into its cool air conditioned interior to take cover from the blazing sun. As we enter, the familiar scents of fresh fabric, jasmine and incense assault our noses, the reams of fabrics in every imaginable colour, style and pattern offer a feast to our eyes and the sensuous experience begins, only be tempered by our mother’s stern adherance to strategy and a purposeful approach to saree buying. On the odd occasion, in the presence of immense beauty, she has capitulated, her eyes glazing over!

Saree shops come in all shapes, sizes and forms. There are those with staid male names which are usually super stores and hence popular with the masses. Then there are those with feminine names of beautiful courtesans of Hindu epics, such as “Urvashi”or “Apsara”, which are more up market and cater to an elite group. A happy medium are stores that represent a healthy compromise between the above two categories and are ones which we usually favour. A little pricier than the super stores but more exclusive in their choices, these are often not as crowded and offer the ultimate sensuous experience.

A saree is just 6 yards of material and that’s what makes it so unique and versatile. It can be worn by women of all ages, sizes and shapes and from all segments of the population. Sarees inspire a generous and giving spirit since anyone can buy for another. But whats most alluring about a saree is the fact that it represents an excellent medium for the human imagination to run rampant.

We are on short cushioned stools in front of long low tables covered with white cloth to be pampered by the salesclerks who stand behind the tables and reach for the gorgeous assortment on the shelves behind them. Nimble young men with ceremonial panache and ritualistic precision drop, in quick succession, an array of hues and tones in a celebration of colour. Cottons, voiles, silks, polysilks, cotton silks, crepes and chiffons in colours natural and imagined. Tones of blue, boasted by wild peacocks dancing in the sun, earthy tones reminiscent of vedic rituals before a pyre, cool greens of verdant palms swaying in the breeze and colours unknown of unchartered heavens conceived by human creativity and ingenuity. Teased, seduced and mesmired, our eyes flit from one to the next trying to decide which one we should examine further. Maintaining eye contact all the time, the vigilant salesperson senses a glimmer of vulnerability, a moment’s hesitation over a piece and offers to show us its pallu, the part that sticks out as a train on the left hand side once the saree has been draped, the ultimate piece de resistance This part is usually the canvas for the weaver’s creative expression in gold or coloured thread of beautiful original designs representing and depicting every conceivable art form. We each then hold up the selection against our bodies in front of the mirror with the pallu hanging over the side. The fabric contours the body and there, irrespective of our sizes or shapes, we stand bedecked in its lissom shimmer. We feel elegant, beautiful, feminine and desirable. The entourage cheers us on enthusiastically and even hangers on and salespersons in nearby counters join in the cheer. We are sold as we each take turns in this pantomime, modeling our sarees and being cheered on.

As anticipated purchases appear to mount, the store manager plies us with cool drinks or coffee depending on the time of day. We now have several more sarees than we had planned to buy. This is because you can never be prepared for what sarees you will find at the store on any given day. It is a treasure trove of surprises no matter how often you visit. Styles, colours and textures change almost every day. Sarees literally sell themselves to you for occasions that you had no plans to buy for. Sarees so befitting of some special person in your life beg to be bought, as “just what she will love”. We make a stop for matching blouse material and then hand over wads of currency to the cashier feeling a slight twinge of guilt. Our minds then return to dwell on the immense beauty that we traded the money for and we feel comforted - even enriched. Having made our purchases at one or several stores we pile into a car or autos, replete from a sensuous feast. Happy and tired during the ride home we talk little, except to make promises to go back and purchase sarees that got missed that day.


Kancheepuram – 2008
Sriperumbuthoor is on the way to Kancheepuram. In recent times, it gained notoriety as the place where Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. There is a memorial to mark the spot. However, the historical significance of this place predates said event by about 1000 years with the birth of Ramanujar, the proponent of Dvaita philosophy and the father of modern Vaishnavism. Interestingly, in keeping with the Dvaita philosophy of the separation of the omniscient God and the spiritual self in each of us, Ramanuja is considered an avatar similar to Adhisheshan, Lakshmanan and Balaraman as a follower of the Supreme being. The sthala puraanam (temple history) of the place offers that the ghouls (boothas, hence the name) who laughed at Shiva’s Thandavam were banished and Vishnu in his eternal mercy redeemed them . Vishnu as the redeemer of Boothas resides there with his consort and there is the shrine for Ramanujar. The temple is undergoing renovations now and is a thousand years old, with pillars and architecture typical of the Pallava era. This temple whetted our appetite for more and we got what we wanted at the Kancheepuram temples.

Our first stop is at the Kamakshi Amman Koil. Goddess Kamakshi is venerated by Shaivaites and Vaishnavaites, so staunch is the belief that she is the all powerful diety who can see us through the Kaliyuga woes. The temple has elements of the ancient and the modern. There are beautiful carvings once again dating back to the Pallava Kings and the nuanaced architecture is quite distinctive, though nowhere near as resplendent as in the 5 temples that we visited next. Ekambareswarar is one of five of the holiest Shaivite temples in India, each of which is said to represent an element. This temple represents the element Earth. It has the highest gopuram in Kancheepuram, at 53 metres. The temple portal is magnificent and as high as a two storey building. It rests on a 1000 pillars in the inner and outer sanctum sanctorams. Its other features are its 108 lingas and a Sahasra linga which is made up of a 1008 small lingas. As I approach the latter, the priest’s voice beckons with the strains of a beautiful Thyagaraja song in Karaharapriya “sokkani raja..”. I recall reading that Dikshithar has composed a number of songs in praise of this temple “Ekambrasa Nayike” being one. The corridors, lined with pillars, are endless. I prayed to the Sahasra Linga and the refrain “Om Namah Sivaya” has remained in my head ever since I performed that sankalpa. This temple is said to house a tree which is 3600 years old – the stump remains to this day and on it another mango tree appears to have taken root. The branches of the original tree were four in number, representing the 4 vedas and each branch is believed to have borne a different fruit.

The Ulagalanda Perumal Koil’s main attraction is the deity in Vishwarupam. The story goes that the Lord appeared as a little child to Mahabali a generous king who was power hungry. When the king asked the child what he wanted, the latter replied “three feet of land”. However, before the King could act upon this request, the Lord took to his original form, conquering the earth with one limb, the heavens with another and settling for a third spot on Mahabali’s head. The sculpture, again 1200 years old, is 15 feet high and magnificent. There is a fluidity to it that captures the mood, the intent and the stance of the Lord in all his resplendence. I could not tear myself away from this sanctum.

The Vaikunta Perumal temple has three tiers. It is beautifully maintained, having been designated a heritage site under the auspices of the Central Government by Archeological Society. This temple was constructed by Pallava King Nandivarman about 1200 years ago to replicate the experience of being in Vaikunta. It has Lord Vishnu in sitting, standing and lying down poses, the last representing His repose in Ananda Shayana or Supreme Bliss. The courtyard that surrounds the temple has resplendent carvings of the lives of the Pallava Kings and offers a wonderful narrative of their life and times. A few of the sculptures have been defaced and temple staff informed us that contrary to popular belief that held Muslims responsible for the vandalism, these works of art fell prey to clashes between the Vadagalai and Thengalai sects of Vaishnavas. This according to art historian Dennis Hatcher of Smith College, whose book, a 2400 page tome on this temple and its carvings. Beside this temple, is a mosque which shares a common pond. The shrine of Thaayar (Goddess mother) which was originally located within the precinct of the mosque saw worshippers go there first before entering the temple. The deity has since been shifted though the original shrine still remains within the mosque. Interestingly, it is said of Kanchi Swami Chandrasekara Saraswathi that he responded to the request of his devotees that the mosque beside the Kanchi Madam be moved with “I wake up each morning to the call for namaz at 4 a.m. It suits me well”.

Another temple which has been beautifully preserved by the Archeological Society is the Kailasanatha temple. The Siva Linga with its 16 faces is identical to the one in Mount Kailas and this temple is meant to substitute that experience for people who cannot make the treacherous journey to Kailas. The sanctum even replicates the crawl space entrance and exits. Of all the temples, this one offers the most creative sculptures with many combinations of deities and the union of male and female, Shiva and Parvathy and male and male, Shiva and Vishnu. Siva is Somaskanda here, with his consort Parvathi and their son Skanda. Ayyappan, born of the union of Siva and Vishnu, as Mohini, has a place here. There are numerous cubicles for meditation and each of these has gorgeous paintings some of which remain to this day. Siva is present in all his glory in various states of meditation and dance, with Parvathi as witness representing life itself where we all partake of the dance and where within each of us our consciousness resides as the silent witness.

Varadaraja perumal temple is on Hasthigiri (elephant hill). It is the place where God is said to have redeemed Devendra from his form as elephant, and two lizards from theirs. The temple is an architectural marvel, with the Lord sitting on the upper tier about two storeys high. The upper floor of the temple is supported by columns and pillars and has evidence of some of the most beautiful paintings of that era. This temple’s unique feature is its 100 pillar mandapam. It will take a lifetime to study the exquisite carvings on each of these pillars which are made of black stone polished smooth. They clearly represent a later era, given that the temples of the Pallava kings that are a thousand years old are made of sandstone and lime. This temple appears to have been improved upon during Chera, Chozha, and Krishnadeva Raya periods with later architectural developments, dating back only 500 years.

Our last stop was at the Sankara madam where there was ample evidence of the scriptures being passed on by the oral tradition. Young brahmin boys ages 5 to 15 dressed in veshti and sporting a kudumi sat in small groups in this large open courtyard repeating the chants of their instructors. The Vedas are alive and well here.

The Kancheepuram temples are not museums but places of worship. There is beauty to that and a sublime energy born out of the ardency and devotion of the people who come here. Those temples that are dedicated heritage sites are well maintained, the rest could do with a good washing and some strict observances around littering and smearing Kumkum and ash. I urge everyone to make a trip to Kancheepuram. It’s a crowded little town, with none of the romance that a beautiful temple city should offer. However, its temples are a must see.

Some thoughts on International Women's Day 2008


For women development has been a double edged sword. It has meant taking on the role of breadwinner over and above gender defined roles. As a result there is considerable added physical strain and mental stress.

Gender politics is not simple. It is inextricably tied to religion, caste and class. Often, depending on the socio political context, religion, caste and class exist as the elephant in the room – not articulated but looming larger than life. We try to fix gender equality by paying lip service to society’s structural context but attempting all fixes from the perspective of gender. This argument may be dubbed disingenuous by people who will always point to how far women have come or the successes of some women – as though to suggest it is the fault of the rest that they have not taken the opportunities given to them.

Unfortunately, what goes unacknowledged is that religion, caste and class have a differential impact on men and women – In addition, history lingers. Depending on the context women need varying degrees of support, competence, confidence and courage to withstand scrutiny when they buck trends in the absence of role models. They also have to be imaginative and negotiate with people who are rigid, prejudiced and unimaginative. They have to negotiate gender role stereotyping and confusion to be acknowledged and respected in what they do.

Curiously, even though some structural changes have resulted in women’s economic independence, the unequal treatment of the genders is so entrenched so that it is accepted as being part of gender identity.


We need an imaginative educational system that teaches girls to break traditional barriers to employment and negotiate gender inequalities with skill and minimal hardship.


In the international arena market forces have precipitated neocolonialism. The call centres of the East serve the corporations of the West. While women are working more outside the home - market forces trump everything and in the name of profit, gender discrimination thrives unquestioned – so women get paid less, they do not get hired if there is a risk they may get pregnant, sexual harassment is rampant and is not questioned particularly if the partner perpetuating it brings in the big clients – there are no accommodations made to protect women from sexual abuse. Also there are no measures to protect the vast majority of women who work late night shifts at call centres to serve the corporations of the West.

Among the “have nots” women are still the world’s poorest and the gap between rich and poor is widening with less and less access for women to the vast majority to any resources.

For the poor women of the world, increasing development has meant a more precarious life with the widening gap between rich and poor, high inflation and increased cost of living. The land grab has meant loss of traditional land and homes to the multinational corporations and no alternate place to do. A return to the feudal set up where agricultural labourers were bonded to the landlords – the difference now – there is less agriculturue and more construction. Women work in construction under poor and unsafe conditions – but in less skilled jobs and at lower wages than men. In addition, they manage the home and children. Often, their spouses abandon their families in favour of alcohol – which they claim they need to ease the pain resulting from their hard labour.

Solution: Public awareness raising campaigns and education on the negative effects of globalisation on women’s condition


The return of all forms of religious fundamentalism in most religions of the world as a backlash to western capitalism and its seductive allure has resulted in women’s gender identity being defined by the maxim biology is destiny, as procreators and keepers of the home and hearth and preservers of culture. The continuity of their role pursuant to past definitions of morality is seen as the sheet anchor in protecting against contamination by western cultures of something that is moral, righteous and pure.

Solution: We need to demystify the sanctity of religion, particularly its role in curtailing women’s freedom.

Independence Day 2008

Just yesterday I finished reading Amitav Ghosh’s masterpiece of a novel “Sea of Poppies”. The timing is perfect for several reasons, a couple worth mentioning here. Today is India’s Independence Day and I have been able to experience the depth of my patriotism for India, which is for me a composite of my many experiences and readings. This book has made me appreciate our freedom from our colonists much more than anything I have read. The book, as the name suggests, is about the poppy trade between India and China. The colonists replaced all food crops with poppy fields, paid exploitive prices to the rural poor who farmed and processed them ready for the factories that sprinkled the west coast of India and exported them to the opium dens of china. Several English men became wealthy simultaneously as did the British Empire from the royalties and tariffs that filled their coffers to overflowing. The story is set at a crucial time in the mid 1800s when the Chinese authorities woke up to the devastation wreaked on their population as result of this malaise and issued an ordinance for the enforcement of its strict ban. The colonists had to resort to the only other profitable export they had, human labour. The novel is set against the backdrop of the poppy trade but the ripple effect of poppy not being profitable anymore was devastation of the rural poor’s lives and their consequently indenture as coolies to serve the colonists interests in other parts of the world, hazarding most treacherous journeys under utterly inhumane conditions in the high seas. In the past, I had some misplaced loyalties for the British rule in India, for their having set up our railways, postal service and most of all for giving us the English language. However, I know now that this was at the cost of the blood, sweat, tears and lives of our many brethren who suffered unspeakable oppression. Today, I bow to those who displayed such valour in the face of all their suffering.

Chennai memories

Chennai Memories – Feb 2007

Arrived in Chennai a week ago after 3 days in Dubai. The traffic chaos and murky skyline aside, Dubai is booming. There are few cities doing as well.In Chennai the boom is less palpable. Yes, there is traffic chaos with more cars and there is more construction, and we read in the news about people making more money. NDTV and other such shows enlighten and ocassionally I wish I had stayed back here to be the COO of a multimillion dollar company like my friend Uma Rathnam Krishnan, who heads Optimus, or any number of other women in senior decision making positions. The moment passes as I become aware of its transcience...

If you are following the news Vodafone has acquired Hutch for awhopping 19 billion - Hutch by the way is the blackberry service provider inIndia and ESSAR (owned by Ruias) is its joint venture partner. Vodafone'sCEO is a handsome Arun Sarin.Anyway, Vodafone beat Reliance, Ruia and Hinduja with its pie in the sky valuation - the projected profit for next year is only 1 billion so they areexpecting exponential growth in the telecom industry to pay thisprice. The interesting dilemma that Vodafone and the Ruias face is this..a foreign company (Vodafone is uk based) can only have 76% stake and hence Hutch joint venture with Essar will fulfill that requirement..the ball is with Essar (in other words Ruia) as to whether it will want in?!! rather odd that it would bid against Vodafone and then want in...but thats market economicsfor you...As I watched this news unfold, my first thought was, somepeople are going to be very rich in this process ane most of them live outside India, the second thought was the 3D technology that Vodafone brings thatwill further revolutionise telecom - but to what appears to be a case of putting the cart before the horse..the technology is responding to the need but creating India basic public amenities are still in short supply, governments continue to be extremely corrupt and the gap between rich and poor is widening. So where I expected positive changes, I see less contentment, more frustration and lots of unhappiness..with soaring costs among the poor and lower middle classes and the rich and the upper middle class appear to flourish on their backs....Under DMK there is nothing you hear in the press but the partyline. Kalanidhi Maran owns all the cable networks and has censored access to any channel which will ensure balanced reporting.

letting life flow

What does it mean to let life flow? Why does it take effort when the point of life is to be effortless? Effortlessness is not to be confused with laziness of course. In that state there is much awareness and there is not exercise of choice or preference of one set of experiences over another. There is acceptance of pain and pleasure with equanimity alike. There is living at the level of intuition and looking peripherally for cues of what feels like the right thing to do, devoid of self interest, for choices we must make. There is awareness that anything that is born out of mind and reasoning can never be fresh since it is born of learned conditioning. When we live life effortlessly we do not strive to repeat experiences to relive pleasures once experienced. We do not have an expectation of what the future should be since all our expectations are born out of images that we conjure up in our limited brains. Lets open up the possibilities…

Cairo Memories

Utta and I just got back from a memorable trip to Cairo. As we always carry around baggage of past impressions with us, I could not but exclaim how it was so much like Indian cities, Mumbai and Chennai rolled into one. The sunshine, greenery, palms and old architecture very much like Chennai and burbs, and the pervasive tall and mid sized flats with clothes drying in the balconies very much Mumbai. Like in every developing country there is huge disparity between rich and poor, the palatial and artistically consrtucted residences of the former ample proof of this. You can almost picture elegant parties on those lawns. This brings me to the most endearing aspect of Cairo - life and living. There is ample evidence of it everywhere - from young nubile couples in clandestine encounters by the Nile, to funerals in the cemetries, children playing in the dirt as their parents peddled wares in the crowded back alley souks, men balancing trays of tea and negotiating the pressing crowds in all places of commerce, to the window shoppers on Roxy Square, to the flirtatious young men sitting around street corners serenading the beautiful young women walking down that street. It is a far cry from a tourist trap, the magnificent ancient pyramids and mosques with courtyards the size of football fields, almost incidental. In fact, when we were in Old Cairo, it came up to their noon prayer time and the mosques opened to welcome the worshippers, keeping the non Muslims out. The trip to the Giza Pyramids and Sphinx was quite like a drive to the Shore Temples of Mammalapuram, smack in the centre of a crowded town, where people went about their lives apparently untroubled by the five thousand year history of one of the world's greatest wonders, in their backyard.

Egypt is an Islamic country and there is evidence of it everywhere. However, predating the arrival of the Arabs over the last two millenia Egypt experienced Greco Roman influences with the Ptolemic period and before that the rich dynastic tradition of the Pharaoh kingdoms going back to 3000 BC. Legend has it that Cairo is the birthplace of Judaism, the location of the Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, the place where a Pharaoh's wife found Moses after he had crossed the Red Sea. The synagogue is surrounded by the Babylon fortress and a hanging church. Among other firsts, Egypt boasts the first monastery dating back to 300 AD under the Coptics a sect of Christians who flourish to this day, their art testament to their history, the blending of pagan traditions and expressive Christianity. Cairo is a holy place with confluence of religions. More recently, Egypt was also a French colony and there is some of that influence evident in the people and the food.

In short, a veritable pot pourrie of eastern and present day european cultures, Egypt is a country with beautiful people, varied cuisines and diverse architecture. The language, however, is predominantly Arabic, with a few French speakers. English is practically non existent.

Whats a trip to Egypt without a pilgrimage to the pyramids. Remarkable structures. Particularly memorable was my 10 metre climb into one funerary chamber, down a narrow passage. The tombs are equally astounding and the preoccupation with death, dying and tomb architecture quite fascinating. King Tut knew not just how to live and but also how to die so elaborate were his plans for the afterlife.

The Nile, the only enduring witness to these thousands of years of history, tamed in recent times with the Aswan dam, has influenced every aspect of life in this historic place as is evident from the art and elaborate sailboats in the tomb architecture. Today, she is there a benevolent and bountiful goddess in the middle of the desert.

Utta and I engaged gap toothed Nabil, our taxi driver to take us around. In his 20 year old Peugeot and with his broken English, he showed us a good time, coming to see us off the day we were leaving. Amidst all those crooks who prey on tourists, we found a gem.

It was wonderful to hang out with an adult daughter sipping tea in cafes, experimenting with the sheesha (water pipes), haggling at the Khan Al Khalili markets and trying out different cuisines at the restaurants. I have wonderful memories and a fresher perspective on the history of our world and our present state of being.

TIFF and the serious moviegoer

TIFF is edgy and fun. My TIFF experience began in the long line up at Dundas Square where I waited patiently for an hour to pick my movies from an advance draw. Unlike in other lineups it is quite normal to start a conversation with a complete stranger and to delve into topics not just limited to movies. People will share titbits about how they made time from their hectic schedules to take in TIFF and in the process reveal intimate details about their daily routine, their work, personal commitments and passions. I found therefore that the serious moviegoer is more interesting than the movies themselves and sets themselves apart from the rest. They dress practically in sensible shoes, carry a bag pack with food and sustenance and reading materials to tide them over between films. They pick up with other aficionados who they see this time each year, to exchange pleasantries, share a coffee and movie reviews. There is much gushing over wonderful films and never talk about the ones that did not do it for them. A serious moviegoer will leave the theatre within the first 10 minutes, if a movie does not vibe with their psyche. There are too many movies and not enough time to spare suffering one. The serious moviegoers speak a common lingo and display an uncanny memory for trivia. It is nice to sit among them as they do the collective "ARRRGH" when the piracy announcement comes on and the wild applause when TIFF salutes the volunteers who run and manage the festival. TIFF does not appear to be plagued by private and commercial interests and therefore attracts the serious moviegoer. The selection of movies shown reflects this, with a fine balance between independents and big studio films, documentaries and features. The movies also represent a wide cross-section of themes from across the globe. In the Q and As that follow, the serious moviegoer asks questions that touch on the sublime and the ridiculous all of which are responded to with matching earnestness by the directors several of whom are world reknowned. It is good to know that in this wonderful City we have a festival that has the artistic clout to draw celebrities. However, what keeps TIFF real is that it is not about celebrity but about the ardent moviegoer, the ultimate artist whose imagination immortalizes a piece of celluloid.