Thursday, October 30, 2008

The whispering house

कैसे चुपके से एक मकान घर बन जाता है,

क्यूँ इस घर का दरवाजा हमेशा खुला रहता है,

क्यूँ इस घर में रोटियाँ गिन के नहीं बनती,

क्यूँ होली खेलने सारा मोहल्ला इस आँगन में आता है,

क्यूँ दीवली का पहला पठाका इसी घर में जलाया जाता है,

क्यूँ कृकैट में हारते हारते इंडिया इस घर में जीत जाता है,

क्यूँ की हर घर चुपके से यह कहता है...

की अन्दर इस में कौन रहता है.

- From an Indian advertisement currently on TV

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The joys of using a fountain pen

HAPPY DIWALI and a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR. May the year ahead bring you joy and bliss.


In today’s day and age when one has to really put down all work and concentrate hard in order to try and recall when was the last time you actually picked up a pen to put something down on paper, my friend Bulla makes the most of his profession (he is a math faculty, and a darn good one at that) by using a fountain pen. There’s something oddly likable about a bloke using ink and steel to pour out ideas in today’s world of bits and bytes.

Inspired by this, I decided to start using a fountain pen myself. Initially, I was sceptical whether the friendly neighbourhood ‘Masterjee’ stationery shop (Stationery shop my foot!! It sells everything from ice-creams to iPods) would still be selling fountain pens, but Bulla told me they did. I was wondering how much a run-of-the-mill pen and a bottle of ink would cost. The answer: 20 bucks for the pen and 15 for a bottle of good ol’ Chelpark ink.

I promise you, just holding a bottle of ink in my hands with that distinctive smell floating about brought back vivid memories from school days. In fact, the one most prominent picture in my mind’s eye was of the first day in Class 3 when I was allowed to use pens. We were advised to use fountain pens back then since they would help to “improve one’s handwriting”.

Anyway, I reached home and just when I was about to start using the new pen, I came across a very old Parker in my table-drawer. I had inherited the pen from a great-aunt who used to live in Ahmedabad. I lovingly took the pen and filled it up with ink and to my surprise, the pen was still in pretty good condition despite years of not being used at all.

Curiosity about fountain pen maintenance led me to the Almighty Google and most of the search results gave the same advice; empty the ink-tank once a month and keep filling and emptying the tank with water till clear water flows from the nib. I decided to go along with this and that is where I re-discovered an age old habit.

The Parker that I have is the one with a piston tank, so I needed to first squeeze out the ink, insert the nib into a bowl of water and then release the pressure so that water would flow into the tank. I must have done this for about half an hour only to realize that the ink would show no sign of stopping. There just seemed to be another drop of ink every single time. I kept at it for almost an hour and that is when I realized the joys of learning about patience and persistence.

In today’s “modern age” (every age was “modern” once; the same Parker pen that I held in my hands must have been the “in-thing” at some point of time) of 30-minute home-delivery of pizzas to 30 seconds or less burgers at a McDonald’s, the maintenance of a fountain pen and the discipline it brings into your writing (one site I went through advised not to keep the pen unused for long periods of time; “consider filling up the ink-tank as a commitment to using the pen”…beautiful words to an old-fashioned guy like me) are wonderful qualities that perhaps need to be rediscovered by us young folks.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Om Jai Shiv Omkara

For a considerable period of time now, I have wanted to learn Sanskrit. And the reason is very simple. More than anything else, I have always had this curiosity to know what exactly I mean when I'm reciting those Hindu prayers. I know for a fact there are many around me who just repeat stuff by rote but do not know what or why they are singing a particular aarti / bhajan.

For instance, just today I got really curious about a particular passage in the aarti 'Om Jai Shiv Omkara'. I asked a couple of people around me who I know to be extremely pious and take the name of the Lord regularly. Surprisingly, they couldn't come up with an answer. Not that I'm in the least disrespecting or doubting their piety, but I would have at least expected them to satiate my curiosity about a couple of verses that they repeat daily.

Anyway, Google bhagwaan ki jai ho! I've gone through a couple of pages of search results for "om jai shiv omkara translation" and the best one thus far is still the first result on Google. However, I'm somehow not convinced that this is the only translation / explanation available for this aarti. In case you do know of any other source, do let me know. I would be extremely grateful.

Om Jai Shiv Omkara

Victory to Śiva, Who is the Lord, Who is Hara (absolver), and Who is Oṃkāra. Brahma and Viṣṇu are always Sadāśiva and He has Gańgā as a consort. Victory to Śiva, Who is Oṃkāra.||1||

Victory to Śiva — Who is adorned with one, four and five heads, and with a seat of Swan, Garuḍa and Bull as Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva — and Who is Oṃkāra.||2||

Victory to Śiva — Who is looking nice with two, four and ten arms, and Who is enticing the world in all the three forms as Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva — Who is Oṃkāra.||3||

Victory to Śiva — Who has garlands of Akṣa (beads), flowers and skulls, and Who has sandalwood-tilaka, musk-tilaka and the Moon at the forehead as Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva — Who is Oṃkāra.||4||

Victory to Śiva — Who has white, yellow and tiger-skin apparel, and Who is attended by Brahmādika, Sanakādika and Bhūtādika as Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva — Who is Oṃkāra.||5||

Victory to Śiva — Who holds Kamaṇḍalu, Cakra and Śūla, Who creates, nourishes and destroys the world as Brahma, Viṣṇu and Śiva — Who is Oṃkāra.||6||

Only the unwise think Brahma, Viṣṇu, and Śiva as different. Actually they all are adorned inside the Praṇava-Akṣara (ॐ). Victory to Śiva, Who is Oṃkāra.||7||

‘‘Śivānandasvāmī’’ says — Those men who sing this Āratī of formless Śiva achieve their desires. Victory to Śiva, Who is Oṃkāra.||8||

Poet: Śivānandasvāmī


Translator: Animesh Kumar


Link here)

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

T-shirt slogan #1

Starting today, a new series on intelligent t-shirt slogans that I spot or hear/read.

T-shirt idea #1


Plum's (knock-out) Punch - A book review

(Warning: The following post has been written under the direct and heavy influence of Wodehouse stories. Quite naturally, the post is going to be well-rounded in its approach. And yes, this isn’t a book review as much as an appreciation note to Plum’s great writing prowess. You have been warned. Enjoy at your own risk.)

The world and its uncle knows that I love reading P.G. Wodehouse’s Wooster stories. I have been under the spell ever since I started reading them while I was in high school.

However, I have always been troubled by the fact that I couldn’t read Plum beyond the Wooster series. I tried reading ‘The Gold Bat’ and found that I nodded off to sleep…every time I tried going past the fourth page! Incredible. Perhaps, the fellow was just starting off on his long and illustrious literary career when he wrote ‘The Gold Bat’. There could be no other explanation.

However, I also remember reading ‘The Indiscretions of Archie’ during my college days and having loved it through and through. (As a matter of fact, I remember how I came to become the proud owner of a copy of that book. I was a member of the British Council’s Kolkata library then and they were selling off old books at throwaway prices. And that’s how I bought the book at a princely sum of Rs. 10!!) The tale of how a young blighter attempts to reconcile his differences with a father-in-law whom he has previously called a thoroughly incompetent baboon (or some such similar term of endearment) me in splits throughout the book.

Anyway, a couple of days ago, I managed to lay my hands (figuratively speaking) on an e-mail (hence the ‘figurative’ feel) which had a few short-stories and novels written by Wodehouse in the e-book format. “Voila!! Let the show begin,” I remember telling myself. And much like Caesar, I started going through the e-books.

The first one that I’ve completed is one titled ‘Plum Punch – Four Short Tales’. Hmm. ‘Plum Punch’. It almost sounded like a freshly prepared cocktail. I couldn’t resist but start with this one. I’m glad to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I haven’t been disappointed. What follows is more of an appreciation note rather than a book review.

The first story in the collection is ‘Dudley Jones – Bore Hunter’. You read that right, ‘Bore’ hunter and not ‘Boar’ hunter, as your animal-hating instinct might have led you to perceive. It tells of the adventure of one Mr. Dudley Jones who helps a pretty young lady get rid of an unwelcome guest to her house who has a penchant for ‘boring’ people with his unwanted banter.

The most hilarious characteristic of this quality was that it is a spoof of the Sherlock Holmes’ narratives. Sample this:

"Well, JONES," I said encouragingly, "What do you make of it?"

"I never form theories, as you are perfectly well aware," he replied curtly. "Pass me my bagpipes."

I passed him his bagpipes and vanished.

It was late when I returned.

I found JONES lying on the floor with his head in a coal-scuttle.

"Well, WUDDUS," he said, "so you've come back?"

"My dear JONES, how__?"

"Tush, I saw you come in."

Simply hilarious.

The other stories are very similar… short, simple and quaintly funny. Of particular interest to fellow lazy-bones would be the last story, aptly titled ‘The Sluggard’. How being sluggish saved the life of Uncle James is the prime motive here.

But consider this brilliant opening to the story and you shall know beyond a shadow of doubt why I loved it the most:

My Uncle James, whose memoirs I am now preparing for publication, was a many-sided man; but his chief characteristic, I am inclined to think, was the indomitable resolution with which, disregarding hints, entreaties and even direct abuse, he would lie in bed of a morning. I have seen the domestic staff of his hostess day after day manoeuvring restlessly in the passage outside his room, doing all those things which women do who wish to rout a man out of bed without moving Uncle James an inch. Footsteps might patter outside his door; voices might call one to the other; knuckles might rap the panels; relays of shaving−water might be dumped on his washstand; but devil a bit would Uncle James budge, till finally the enemy, giving in, would bring him his breakfast in bed.

All in all, a must read for a slow moving Saturday afternoon. And by the by, all these four stories take up only 12 pages!! Go ahead; grab that e-book (figuratively speaking, of course).

Friday, October 10, 2008

"Devil May Care" by Sebastian Faulks

The back cover of the book is ominous in its simplicity:

“Come in, 007,” said M. “Good to see you back.”

The tone for a new James Bond thriller has been set.

For long have fans of the world-famous British spy waited for their hero to return to the written world. From Roger Moore to Timothy Dalton, from Pierce Brosnan to now Daniel Craig, James Bond has evolved on screen, but the legend, one must be reminded, was born when one Mr. Ian Fleming put words to paper.

‘Devil May Care’, written by Sebastian Faulks, was released on May 28, 2008 to coincide with Ian Fleming’s birth centenary. One must appreciate the tremendous task that lay ahead of Mr. Faulks. He needed to recreate the magic with which Fleming kept the world captivated. James Bond, after all, is not just a British icon. His fame has spread across the world; half the world’s population has seen at least one James Bond film; his debonair lifestyle is the kind that schoolboys dream of (not to mention the older boys); his skills with members of the opposite sex are legendary. In Ian Fleming’s words, Faulks had to write “the spy story to end all spy stories”. Thankfully, Faulks does justice.

‘Devil May Care’ takes the reader back into the throes of the Cold War. Bond is beginning to have doubts about whether he is still good enough to be in active service or whether he should call it a day and push papers and files from behind a desk. However, he is pleasantly called out of a 3 month “sabbatical” by M.

The world has a new enemy in the form of the sinister Dr. Julius Gorner. An intellectual genius and a former Nazi and Soviet supporter, Dr. Gorner has deadly plans aimed against the British. His operations are embedded deep in Persia. Also, no Bond villain is complete without an evil henchman. Dr. Gorner has the services of Chagrin, an old Vietnam hand who gets his sadistic pleasure from ripping out people’s tongues while they are still alive.

Bond, however, is not alone in his mission to destroy Gorner. He is assisted by the beautiful and mysterious Scarlett, a banker who has her own personal agenda against Gorner. Also making a cameo in the book is Bond’s old CIA friend, Felix Leiter.

The book traces Bond’s exploits through dapper gentleman clubs in London, through Parisian street cafés, through steamy and luxurious bath lounges of Turkey and also through dusty, frontier towns in Persia. The action is non-stop and good old-school style where fists and intelligence matter more than gadgets.

For those who relish adventure novels, this is a must buy. James Bond fans, I’m sure, need not be persuaded much. To them, this book would be like the famous Martini that Bond would never say ‘no’ to.