Bhagalpuri Silk

Attended a seminar today in a Bhagalpuri silk kurta and dupatta that I’d purchased a couple of years ago in an exhibition, directly from a weaver. He had lots of fabric in different ethnic colours and designs, and very elegant dupattas. This variety of silk is very beautiful yet affordable, and even their saris are very nice.

Bhagalpur is the third largest city in Bihar, situated on the Ganges, and is also called the “silk city”. It has been associated with the silk industry for hundreds of years, and is famous all over India for its “Tussar” Silk & Bhagalpuri Saris. Tussar silk (also known as Kosa silk) is produced from the larvae of silkworms belonging to the genus “Antheraea”, it’s valued for it’s rich texture and natural deep gold colour.

This silk is distinct because of it’s texture, unique dyeing techniques using vegetable dyes, and traditional motifs and designs. Do try to incorporate this beautiful variety of silk into your wardrobe. It’s great for daily wear.

Still remember the long chat I had with the weaver. He told me about how they were trying to preserve their business by innovating and coming up with new designs and techniques. They had started making linen fabric etc. He also turned out to be very generous, because at the end of my purchase, he gifted me two free dupattas 🙂 🙂 Also have a Bhagalpuri sari that I still have to wear and click pics in someday…..

References:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tussar_silk
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagalpur

On Windows and Views

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Wrote this poem a few days back when I was in Hyderabad. Managed to stay for a few days in my old apartment there. The last few years that I’d spent in it was quite ill and invalid, so it felt really great to be back in much better condition.

Used to spend a lot of time gazing out of windows when I was unwell, and haven’t been indulging in that activity for quite some time. It’s actually a very delightful pastime – very calming and relaxing, provided your window has a nice view 🙂 🙂 My window had a very green and beautiful view of trees, birds, butterflies and garden activity, therefore I never ever got bored. It used to be fun watching different birds turn up at different times of the day, and indulge in various antics. Whiled away some time again before I wrote this poem.

Also remembered that my grandfather used to spend a lot of time gazing out of our living-room window in Bangalore, when he stayed with us. He really enjoyed this activity and would give a running commentary of the scenes outside, to anyone willing to listen. Our house was in front of a lively but not noisy street, so the scenes outside used to be quite colorful and interesting.

He became familiar with and used to recognize all the regular passers-by, and would notice whenever one of them was missing on any particular day. There would be office-goers passing by in the mornings and evenings, children going to school, vendors coming and going at different times, and laborers returning home late evening.

He used to enjoy Sundays the most because there was a popular church close-by. Many families would pass by on Sundays in their most colorful and best clothes and he knew all of them, though he never spoke to any of them! If any family or family member was missing on any Sunday, he would comment on that. Am hardly spending any time by windows nowadays, and think I should get back to it once in a while 🙂 🙂
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By the Window

I decided to make today
an ode to yesterday
and whiled away the moments
in idle sentiments

Settled by the same old window
and remembered many scenes
of birds humming in the breeze
gardeners chattering under trees

All that reality is now only memory
today’s certainty is also but a dream
the yesterdays, their trials and tribulations
how strange, sad and beautiful they seem….

Rukmini Ammamma

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Those nights when I’ve lain awake struck by insomnia and dreading the darkness, I’ve worried mostly about the “irrationality” and “evil” in human nature. The two qualities or aspects that seem to cause most of the misery and perplexity in human lives. While wallowing in this nocturnal anxiety and fear, I’ve also wondered why some people are so vile, whether it’s their intrinsic nature, or due to their circumstances, or their life experiences or some combination of all three? Despite losing sleep for many nights, I haven’t yet found a satisfactory answer to these questions, and am still on my quest 🙂 🙂

If we could find the antecedents and antidotes to selfishness, cruelty, and greed, I guess we could solve most world problems. But I’m probably not the first person to be thinking on these lines and neither will I be the last, and if the answers were so easy, they’d have been discovered or invented by now 🙂 🙂

Right now, I can only reminisce and share my memories and perception. In an earlier post titled “Train to Calcutta”, I’d mentioned “Rukmini ammamma (grandmother), who was my maternal grandma’s elder sister and quite a terror. Not only did she have a very remarkable and tyrannical personality, but she also has a very unusual story. Her story is a perfect example as to why it’s absolutely essential for Indian women (actually all women) to be educated and self-sufficient, and also to have equal rights in their father’s and husband’s properties. A lot of progress has now been made in these matters, but the circumstances were very precarious and challenging for women in the past.

Ammamma’s family was one of the richest in their district and possessed many landed properties, as well as gold. Her mother (my great-grandmother) “Savitramma” is still one of the most venerated women in our family and several girls in subsequent generations were given her name to commemorate her. She was supposed to be a very idealistic and generous woman.

In the 1930’s Gandhiji visited their neighborhood as part of his travels throughout India, and delivered a moving address on the need to fight for independence from British rule. She was so affected by his speech that she donated her entire gold jewelry (which was quite a bit) to him and the freedom cause, without hesitating even for a moment. Both her sons (ammamma’s brothers) were also very idealistic and selfless, and much involved in the Freedom Movement and even imprisoned for some months in the Rajahmundry Central Jail. They were also followers of “Kandukuri Veereselingam Pantulu” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandukuri_Veeresalingam) – a social reformer from Andhra Pradesh, who was involved in causes like womens’ education, abolition of dowry and widow remarriage.

One day in Calcutta, when I was browsing through some old photo albums in my uncle’s house, I came across a very old B&W photograph of a beautiful and well-dressed lady. So I asked my aunt who she was. I was shocked to hear that it was ammamma’s photo! There was absolutely no resemblance between the tyrannical, arthritic, bent old woman and the beautiful lady in the photograph! When I looked quizzically at my aunt, she assured me that it was indeed ammamma’s photograph!

I got to know her tragic story many years later… Ammamma had been married when she was very young – just 8 or 9 years old (child marriage was very common in those days), and had become a widow by the time she was just 16 years old. She had delivered a female baby just before she lost her husband.

Her unscrupulous in-laws had cruelly decided to keep her child and all her gold jewelry, but not her. They sent her back to her mother’s house with the excuse that she was “unlucky and inauspicious” for their family. So she started living a depressing and secluded life, grieving for her husband and separated from her baby. In those days, widows had to wear only white saris, eat very simple food and keep away from any festivals or functions. Even at the tender age of sixteen, all these customs had to be followed.

After a year or so, Mr. Ramprasad – a wealthy and successful lawyer, who was her brother’s friend happened to catch a glimpse of her when he visited their house. He was instantly smitten by her, and enquired about her. Even after being told her story and the fact that she was a widow (widow remarriage was taboo in those days), he expressed his desire to marry her.

Social reformers like Veeresalingam had started a “Remarriage Association” in those days and were encouraging young men to come forward and marry widows. He supported his ideas by quoting scriptures, and proving that all religious texts did not advocate the regressive practices that were against women. However, there was still a lot of opposition and there were very few young men who agreed with him. But ammamma’s brothers were very progressive, and they decided to get her remarried despite the opposition.

She was married again to Ramprasad, and it seemed like a happy and new beginning to her life. She was again gifted a lot of gold jewelry (around 200 tolas) and given a huge dowry and her husband was also a very rich man, so she was very well placed and everything seemed fine for a couple of years. However on the day when she got to know that she was expecting a child, she also heard some very shocking news from a relative.

Her husband had conveniently neglected to reveal the fact that he had another wife (his first wife) and a few kids in a nearby town. This information was a total shocker and she felt much betrayed, and took it very badly. The couple started having frequent altercations and fights after this revelation. During one such bitter fight, Ramprasad lost his temper and dragged her out of the house and shut the door on her. He did not relent even after a few days, and heartlessly and cruelly did not agree to even let her take back her belongings, or gold. It was talked about for many days about how she was left on the streets in a pregnant condition, with nothing but the sari she wore to her name.

All this couldn’t have happened at a worse time because both her brothers were then in prison, serving sentences for having taken part in the Freedom Movement, and for supporting Gandhiji. A few relatives tried to help her get back her gold and demand alimony, but failed because her husband was an unscrupulous lawyer. Grievously struck by remorse at the fate of her daughter, her mother soon passed away. Her brothers were released from prison after a few months but they had donated most of their property and wealth to the freedom cause, and had nothing left to give their sister.

So, ammamma led her life by spending few weeks at a time in different relatives’ houses. A few of them were kind and considerate, but most weren’t. They would make her do a lot of housework, run errands, but still ill-treat her and not even give her enough to eat. Meanwhile, her wretched husband revealed his intentions to snatch away her child once it is born – if it were to be a boy. So this was an additional and major worry.

Soon she delivered a baby boy, and somehow managed to prevent her husband from snatching him away with a lot of help from few well-wishers. She and her son continued living in different relatives’ houses on a rotational basis, under very trying and difficult circumstances. One can only imagine what they went through. The only silver lining in this whole ordeal was that ammamma’s son – Raghuvir uncle turned out to be a very exceptional and brilliant student. He performed very well in school, won many important scholarships, and even managed to get a PhD from a prestigious university in the USA.

It was probably the unfortunate circumstances that he went through as a child that made him very generous and compassionate. He was the only relative who volunteered to help my mother when we were going through a tough phase, and agreed to take care of me for two years while my mother was studying. However, the same trials and tribulations seemed to have made ammamma (his mother) very insensitive and cruel. She was very much against his decision and unhappy that her son had agreed to something like that. She was not only abusive to me, but also to her daughter-in-law throughout her life.

These thoughts bring us back to where we started – what makes some people so vile? Is it their intrinsic nature, or their circumstances, or their life experiences, or some combination of all three?

 

 

 

Anti Black Money Day

Today is the first anniversary of the Demonetisation in India, announced on Nov 8 last year. Had posted many articles a year ago supporting the move, and am pasting one of the more “liked” ones below.

Still continue to believe that it was a great and necessary first step to curb corruption and root out black money. We’re able to observe some of these concrete benefits now:

1. Rising tax compliance
2. More fear in tax evaders
3. Growing digitization of transactions
4. Crackdown on shell companies used to launder black money
5. Large increase in PAN (Permanent Account Number) registrations
6. Decrease in terror funding


Managing “Change” (When you don’t have cash!) – Posted on my FB page Nov 26, 2016.

Hope you’re all having a Great Weekend! And sincerely hope that the current demonetization is not troubling you too much. Do share your experiences during the current demonetization, both positive and negative. And, if possible, do try to help those around you to transition to digital transactions via cards or mobile wallets. It’s important to transition to cashless transactions as much as we can and help others around us do so. Sometimes, the help might involve something as simple as helping them to open bank accounts. Have myself downloaded the PayTM app recently 🙂 🙂

This is a very unusual and turbulent phase in our country when we are undergoing a lot of “change”. Coping with change (and getting change 🙂 ) is always difficult, and therefore there’s an entire field of study called “change management”. Here’s a “change management perspective” of demonetisation.

The current demonetisation is something that can be classified as a “disruptive change”. Disruptive change causes entire mechanisms and technologies to be replaced by new ones. Sadly, there’s never a pretty or foolproof method to conduct this kind of major change. There’ll always be a few people who are shortchanged or lose jobs in the process. Disruptive change is generally turbulent and inadequate in the beginning, but leads to rapid improvements later on.

Examples of disruptive change: Computers replacing typewriters, email replacing postal letters etc. To illustrate further, this is what Dr. Clayton Christensen (Professor at Harvard University), who’s an expert on this topic says: “Early personal computers were a disruptive innovation relative to mainframes and minicomputers. PCs were not powerful enough to run the computing applications that existed at the time they were introduced. These innovations were disruptive in that they didn’t address the next-generation needs of leading customers in existing markets. They had other attributes, of course, that enabled new market applications to emerge, and the disruptive innovations improved so rapidly that they ultimately could address the needs of customers in the mainstream of the market as well.”

In the current scenario, we’re hoping that an increase in digital transactions will accompany demonetisation and bring about benefits like lower inflation, lower tax evasion, lesser corruption, financial difficulty for terrorists, more money for government to spend on infrastructure etc. It’s therefore very imperative to adapt to cashless transactions. Apart from the knowledge and information on how to do so, mindsets need to change as well.

Many individuals do not want to transition because they’ll need to start paying taxes if they do so. However, we can’t have double standards and expect our Netas and Babus to be honest while we continue to evade taxes. There’s ample proof that digital transactions cut down corruption or make it easier to track. The best example in India is the advent of online railway booking. This step almost eliminated Railway touts who used to book tickets in bulk and cause difficulties to the common man.

Of course, there seem to be quite a few lapses in the implementation, however this is generally the case, because planning for disruptive change is a very difficult process, easier in hindsight. An insight from change management literature is that leadership during disruptive change involves managing unsurpassed levels of uncertainty, because no robust data exists to do prior planning. Constantly adaptive planning is the only way out (as is happening now), it involves studying the results, learning from them, and then constantly modifying assumptions and approaches. Given the extra burden of secrecy in this case, it would’ve been impossible to meticulously plan for every possible outcome.

No wonder many people said that demonetization was a “brave and risky” decision to take. However, the risk is worthwhile if it succeeds, because disruptive change can help you “leapfrog” – get significantly ahead. Most developed countries are mostly cashless and therefore have much lower levels of corruption. So far, it’s a good sign that despite the inconveniences, almost 86% Indians (both urban and rural, according to the recent C voter survey) have remained remarkably resilient, and are still supporting this move. This is a positive outcome and hopefully signals a better future.

Visit to Jhansi

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Entrance to fort.

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One view of the fort

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Panch Mahal – a five storeyed building where the queen had meetings with her army generals. It has some secret exits.

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Bhavani Shankar cannon – one of the cannons in the fort.

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Place where the queen used to have her “Durbar” before the British took over the fort.

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View of Jhansi from the fort. The green stadium is “Dhyanchand stadium”. The famous hockey player Dhyanchand was from Jhansi.

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Ganesh temple in fort, where the queen was married.

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Amod Bagh – garden where she spent spare time with her friends.

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The point in the fort from where she jumped on horseback and escaped, when it was surrounded by the British.

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Rani Mahal, where the queen lived till she was widowed. She shifted to the fort, after the king died.

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Durbar hall in the Rani Mahal.

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The pillar in Rani Mahal, sliced by the queen with her sword in anger, when she heard about the British attack. She is supposed to have shouted “main apni Jhansi nahi doongi” when she swung her sword.

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Painting of Jhansi Rani in the museum.

It was a great experience to visit Jhansi and remember the story of the great queen who fought against the British. Her real name was “Manukarnika” and she was renamed “Laxmi Bai” when she got married to the king of Jhansi – Gangadhar Rao, when she was only 13.

Manu was supposed to be very valiant and talented in the art of warfare. But, after she lost her only child and husband, the British asked her to vacate the Jhansi fort under the “Doctrine of lapse” and accept a pension, which she refused.

Rani Laxmi Bai played an important role in the first war of independence in 1857. However, thanks to traitors, she was finally forced to kill herself to avoid being captured by the British, when she was only 23 😦 😦  (The British claim that they killed her during battle, in their version of history)

Had read about her long back in school, but forgotten most of the history. Our guide was very good and retold the story very well. He also suggested that we should visit the Jhansi museum and Rani Mahal, which were very good.

Jhansi is now a dusty (due to stone crushing industry) city, but the Mahal, fort and museum are well maintained. Hotels in Orccha – about half an hour away, are much better places to stay. If interested, you can stay in Orccha and make a day trip to Jhansi. Our guide narrated the famous Hindi poem praising her valour “Jhansi ki Rani” for us. Here’s one verse from it:

झाँसी की रानी (Jhansi Ki Rani) – सुभद्रा कुमारी चौहान (Subhadra Kumari Chauhan)

इस स्वतंत्रता महायज्ञ में कई वीरवर आए काम,
नाना धूंधूपंत, तांतिया, चतुर अज़ीमुल्ला सरनाम,
अहमदशाह मौलवी, ठाकुर कुंवर सिंह, सैनिक अभिराम,
भारत के इतिहास गगन में अमर रहेंगे जिनके नाम.
लेकिन आज जुर्म कहलाती उनकी जो क़ुर्बानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वो तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी.

Valley of Fire

 

Photographs of the ‘Valley of Fire’ state park in the US state of Nevada, an hour from Las Vegas. The park was named thus because it has beautiful red sandstone formations, that often appear to be on fire when reflecting the sun’s rays. This park is very popular for photography and film shooting. Many scenes in the movie “Total Recall”, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger were shot in the Valley of Fire.

However, my first visit turned out to be quite an eerie experience! Thanks to the summer heat (above 42 Celsius) when we drove into the park, we realized that our’s was the only car and we were the only (crazy) people inside the park. We saw no human being even at the entrance, since the ticketing was automated.

The unusual landscape was beautiful, but felt unreal and scary like a science-fiction set, especially since it was desolate 😦 😦  So after driving for about 10 minutes, we stopped and clicked some quick pics, took a U turn and drove right out….probably missing some really spectacular scenery ahead…..

Hope to venture into it again sometime during better weather.

A Gender-Equal society

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A gender-equal society would be one where the word “gender” does not exist: where everyone can be themselves. – Gloria Steinem

Love this one because I’ve often been accused of not behaving like a girl (ha ha). However, there should be no different rules and expectations from girls, we should treat everyone equally. Indian men (and women) need to become more emancipated and hopefully, we’ll eradicate the word “gender” soon…….

PS: Pic of the cute girl child who lives next door. Photo clicked by her mom  🙂