Feast for Thought

Not pontificating. Only trying to bat on the side of the environment. And ethics. And simple living. And slowing down. (And trying to learn and practise before preaching or teaching...)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Listen to the Hoolock gibbon as he mopes...

A Hoolock gibbbon at the Delhi zoo. He is depressed, no doubt.
Is he just waiting for delayed keeper-supplied meals?
Or is he feeling claustrophobic?
Or is he tired of indifferent onlookers?
See more Wordless Wednesday posts.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Tamizh month of Margazhi (Dhanu in Malayalam)

Just marking this very special month 16 Dec to 13 Jan - my efforts at briefly collating several aspects of the month.
# Krishna says - (Gita, 10/35)
बृहत्साम तथा साम्नां गायत्री छन्दसामहम् ।
मासानां मार्गशीर्षोऽहमृतूनां कुसुमाकरः ॥
Meaning: "Among the hymns also (I am) the Brhat-Samna; among the meters I am Gaytri; among months, I am Margasirsa; and among seasons, I am the flower bearer (spring).

# Gita Jayanthi (birthday of the Bhagavad Gita) was observed on 9 Dec ("Agrahayana (Hindi: अगहन agahan) is a month of the Hindu calendar. In India's national civil calendar, Agrahayana is the ninth month of the year, beginning on 22 November and ending on 21 December. In Vedic times, this month was also known as Maargashirsha after the nakshatra (asterisms) Mrigashira.")

# Then we have the Thiruvaadira festival for Siva, also observed as the Aarudra Darshan. (10 Jan 2009)
(In Tamil Nadu, the day's speciality, after due worship of Siva, is the combination of the offering Thiruvaadirai Kali and ezhu-kaai Kootu. In Kerala (my state-in-law) the Thiruvaadira Kali refers to the dance kaikottukali performed by groups of ladies on the same day. The offering to the Lord is the Tiruvaadira Puzhukku)

# Throughout the month, temples (and most small screen channels) in Tamil Nadu resound with Aandal's Thiruppaavai
Listen to the poetess-saint's compositions explained here (Tamil). Or simply listen to Smt MLV's rendition of the divine composition
(for day 2 and later, use tpavai2 to tpavai30 in place in the url)

# Here is a Thiruvempavai link as well - listen to daily Margazhi Tiruvempavai discourses
Know the meanings of the 20 verses of Maanikkavaasagar

# Then it is the turn of Vaikunta Ekadasi, the day of symbolic opening of the doors of heaven to devotees. (7 Jan 2009)

# Think Margazhi and this tamil movie song comes to mind -
Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham

# On all mornings of the entire month, the customary kolams in front of houses will also sport a flower (placed in a ball of cowdung) at the centre

# For more interesting information on Margazhi see
- Tsunami Disaster Predicted By Astrology
- Bhairava Ashtami

PS: Reader Lipi has provided valuable corrections as well as informative and instructive links (please see comments hereunder) - quoted below for ready reference -

"Regarding calendars:
In the (Indian) traditional calendar system, we have two major types - Solar and Lunar. The Tamil calendar, among others (likely Punjabi, Assamese ...) is solar. The majority of the others is lunar (telugu, ...) It may be a good indication of what type of calendar it is, based on when they celebrate their new year (All yugAdi calendars are lunar. The rest must be solar - baisAki, vishu, tamizh new year ...)

The two links below should give an idea of Traditional calendar concept.
Solar and lunar calendar overview
Lunar calendar explained

For those who think the 'panchAngam' - 'having 5 parts', is unscientific and a waste of time, here is a document published in 1935, by an eminent Indian Mathematician.

The training of Indian Almanac Makers ..."
PS 2: The title was amended based on the above.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

For those who appreciate Carnatic music

The December Madras music season has begun in Chennai. I will be content to catch glimpses of artistes' brilliance on the small screen, and read reviews by experts and critics in the newspaper. Raji gives the perfect preview of the ethos - complete with all the factors that make the festival in my home town so unique.

That's not all. For a further treat, Carnatic music buffs can also look out for Markazhi raagam, a first of its kind project that will present classical concert by Bombay Jayasree and TM Krishna in theatres. The worldwide release is slated for 18 Dec 2008.

Here's the link to the trailer

And these are the firsts that this project claims
"First ever classical concert produced to be played in Cinema halls.
First ever alternate content from India for Digital Cinema Theatres (Non feature programming).
First ever Classical music content to be shot and post produced in 4k resolution
First ever programme in the world to be shot with 7 Red 4k cameras.
First classical music programme that will be mixed in 5.1 (ie. 6 channel sound)
First classical music programme that will be mixed to THX certification
First classical music programme to be released in Blue Ray
First classical music programme that will be available on DVD and audio CD in 6 track surround sound."

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

Dear Dr Kalam...

Greetings and salutations from an alumnus of your Alma Mater.

In 2002, you brought a whiff of change to India's topmost office. As President, you represented Change in so many ways - as an apolitical figure, as a Net-savvy technocrat, as a writer and most of all as an Indian citizen who felt as one among the masses and understood only too well their sufferings - in fact the perfect QRs of a leader of a democracy.

If only the position of India's President had had teeth, instead of being a mere trinket in India's political and governance framework. You would have set the precedence for the kind of Change that Barack Obama hopes to bring about in another democracy. It is not a waste of time to imagine - wistfully now - the possible changes that could have taken place from grassroots right up to the Executive in those five years when the entire Indian defence services proudly saluted you as their Supreme Commander.

A few days ago, I tried to put together my list of Ideal 552 for the Lok Sabha, and that list most naturally starts off with you, Dr Kalam. Though at present the list has just 5% of the numbers that are supposed to fill the Lok Sabha, I'd like to think that a workable cabinet is visible therein.

This is just an attempt at a possible, nay probable picture. You are not a politician, but as the Statesman that you are, your presence at the helm, as the Power that be, may encourage a largely indifferent bureaucracy to open their eyes, re-read the Constitution and make real efforts to abide by it, as they start to take in the current reality, and purport of 'We, the People of...'

Jai Hind!
Dr Kalam signs a copy of Wings of Fire

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ideas for Change, post Mumbai 26/11

Among all the rhetoric and hyperbole overdose, it is refreshing to see some meaningful debate here and there in the media, e-mail and in other forums.
Can we ordinary citizens believe that this time, since the rich have been hit, it is likely that the Government will lend the ear that was hitherto deaf to the masses' cries? Let's hope so - CII, FICCI, and corporates have a huge responsibility and can easily make use of this opportunity to revolutionise political thought - something that middle class citizens and NGO's can only hope for.

It is easy to get emotional, and rant on the ills that have befallen our social and political space, and one needs some effort to moderate one's thought. Here are some of them.
1. Using the services of ex-servicemen for the purpose of bringing about societal change.
Being one myself, I know for a fact that there are several others, who pursue new careers post service-life. Every six months or so, there are considerable numbers of men from the ranks who (try to) join civilian stream. The more enterprising end up in civilian establishments in suitable roles, more often than not in the security departments. This lot can easily form a formidable group of already-trained manpower, with basic skills and sometimes specialised skills.
In the absence of compulsory military training at pre-college or college level, I feel that ex-service persons will continue to be of immense help to society's larger interests if there is a system to absorb them as soon as they complete their tenure. Two immediate roles for these personnel are possible
- Lateral entry into local police forces, at equivalent cadre level.
- As organizers and trainers for community-level civil defence groups.

2. Restraining and regulating the media
With the events of the past week, topped by the Navy Chief's valid questions on current practices in Indian electronic media, the moderate voice feels an immediate need for media restraint for the public good, and ultimate purpose of bringing about societal change. With too many channels crowding air space, "there are many inexperienced reporters and producers in the TV-news business."
This juvenile media gave themselves a free hand. It is gut-wrenching to realise that the very means which can mean a lot for positive change in society, is misusing that power for low and selfish ends.
For starters, we could restrict news channels to a few hours a day - what they have to say can be maturely conveyed in the space of a few hours, rather than day-and-night-long hyperbole. In these days, it was extremely comfortable to watch sedate DD, and its 'rukaavat ke liye khed hai' brings on nostalgia.

3. Exercising your right to vote as a duty to your nation
Corporates and other employers can assume the responsibility to inculcate the value of the franchise in employees and other citizens. The Tata Tea company's TV ad message that espouses the citizen to vote (visit www.jaagore.com), reaches but a small portion of the electorate. The majority of upper middle class and elite are indifferent to this Right, and there are address-less millions who cannot exercise this right.

An American staying in India can cast his or her vote and have the satisfaction that the vote is precious, and it counts. [I am an Indian citizen who has served in the defence and other government service, but neither my spouse nor I have never had the chance to vote. We have always been away from home for the past 20 years, during which time several elections have gone by, we have saluted umpteen defence ministers, and always placed country before self. (I do not think any of the serving brethren have ever cast their vote. Postal ballot continues to be on paper. Let us hope EC carries out its promise for the next general elections). Repeated requests at the local municipality office (at native place) have yielded no results. Perhaps our country can also have a system by which all eligible voters declare their political affiliations when they attain voting age, and then each favoured party can do the running around to get their voters registered].

It is time to popularize the Right to Vote as a national duty to select the right candidate, among all classes of society. Awareness campaigns in the media, employers' impartial campaigns within the organization, and NGO's targeted campaigns to educate their respective flocks, and panchayat level campaigns among the local franchisees, can bring about discernible change in larger numbers of the public.

4. Bringing about long-pending legislation
We all hope and pray that in the ensuing session of Parliament, anti-terror laws will be debated, and necessary Acts passed to provide teeth to the action groups.

Let us also hope that political thought has the courage to focus on the matter of placing these long overdue legislations as integral parts of the Constitution.
1. The Uniform Civil Code, lest the moderates in the majority be alienated. [Article 44, under the Directive Principles of State Policy, says - The State shall endeavour to secure for the citizens a uniform civil code throughout the territory of India.]
2. The Right to Recall. I am a citizen who believes that MPs and MLAs are accountable.
3. The Bill to bar criminals, and candidates with doubtful antecedents, from contesting elections. An earlier chance slipped us by, despite Dr APJ Abdul Kalam's requests for reconsideration.
(No harm in daring to hope for even this: 4. Right to equal protection for all citizens: can politicians be made as vulnerable as every citizen?)

5. Setting a common minimum programme
A possible common minimum programme for any party that comes to power can perhaps be seen as a level playing field for political parties, in the assumption that they started off with the right intentions. There are some basic national necessities which have been neglected for decades. If the Executive has a mandate to complete certain tasks every year on the following agenda points, irrespective of which party or personality is in the boss's seat, can't we hope to see inclusive growth and development?

- sanitation
- public health
- basic housing
- environmental rejuvenation
- healthy agricultural growth

Going a step further, it may even be possible to channelise thought such that we actually have a two-party scenario - the UPA+ & NDA+ (or equivalents thereof), with their respective regional units intact. (See also A two-party system is possible)

Some measures are possible in the short term - others in medium to long term, but none are unrealistic, one feels. Neither are they too idealistic.
We live and think in hope.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

An open letter to Barkha Dutt and her ilk

To BD (and others of your ilk who live by, for and off TRP)

I wonder how you will feel on reading an outsider's view of the immaturity shown by Indian channels - Attack Coverage Tests India's Nascent News Channels "Live Showings of the 60-Hour Siege Get High Viewership and Mixed Reviews; Hyperbole, Security Among Concerns"

Your TV coverage of the events of last week have shown that you and your ilk may feel for the public, but your ultimate interest is to cause sensation and improve your TRP ratings. Where once you were worthy of admiration - now one feels pity that you, who can form and lead opinion, gave in to publicity of the cheap variety. Where once your (BD's) 'We the people' was expectantly awaited- now the channel is heartily skipped, let alone your programme.

And one dreads to read and see news that you and your channel have won (or should it read 'gave yourselves'?) this award and that for covering these sad events. Indian visual media journalists and a few print journalists who worry more about page-3 non-issues need several lessons in sensitivity. No harm in learning them ASAP.

Do think about the following, once each of you have had a chance to catch your breath, and are no longer holding the mike, or poking it insensitively into a victim's face.
1. How can news be broken several times? If one channel has broken it, it cannot be broken again by the same channel or any other.
2. How can the same news be broken throughout the day and night? If you try to, you are crushing, grinding and making further mincemeat of it, and miss out on SUBSTANCE.
3. The 24X7 (pun intended) culture has done and continues to do much more harm than good.
4. You are instrumental in ensuring that public memory is indeed short - you'll soon find a celebrity or other page-3 non-issue to add colour to your channel even before the ashes of the victims have cooled. I challenge you to keep away from ads, Bollywood and cricket for a whole month.
5. If you need lessons on journalism, take them from Cho Ramaswamy (you must surely have heard of him), who prints his magazine 'Thuglaq' without support from anyone, least of all corporates - and he has a faithful and very critical following.

Each one of you 'intelligent fools' competed successfully to prove these words of E.F. Schumacher - "Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage - to move in the opposite direction."

See an outsider's view of the immaturity shown by Indian channels - Attack Coverage Tests India's Nascent News Channels "Live Showings of the 60-Hour Siege Get High Viewership and Mixed Reviews; Hyperbole, Security Among Concerns"

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