Monday, July 23, 2012

Extracts from "Kadambari by Banabhatta"

The following extract is from the novel “Kadambari” written by Shri Banabhatta an author who lived in the period around 645 AD. He was attached to the court of the famous King Harshavardhan. Kadambari is an epic novel a classic and this extract has been chosen to show that worldly advise regarding wealth and character remains the same irrespective of the period and time. In the novel these are the words spoken by the wise minister Shukanasa to the King Tarapedi’s son Chandrapida on his coronation as the crown prince.

“Dear Prince,

You have learnt all the sciences and read all the shastras (scriptures). But there is much that you have still to learn. The darkness arising from youth is very thick and cannot be pierced by the sun, nor by the radiance of all the jewels in the treasury. The intoxication of Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) is terrible and does not leave us even in old age. The blindness of power admits of no cure. The fever of pride does not yield to any cooling appliance. The poison of the senses is maddening; no charms or medicinal herbs can counteract it. Passion leaves a stain that cannot be washed by bathing or purification.

In early youth the mind often loses its purity even though it is cleansed by knowledge of the scriptures. Nature carries a young heart before it like a dry leaf borne by the wind. The senses are captivated by pleasure, as deer are charmed by a mirage.

Beware of Lakshmi, my Prince. She is fickle and her ways are but little understood. When acquired she is hard to keep. Even though held fast by the cords of heroism, she escapes. Though guarded by elephants she flees away. She does not regard race, she does not follow the fortune of a family, does not consider character, does not count intelligence, does not court righteousness, does not honour generosity. She has no use for sacred learning, she does not understand truth, and she does not value discrimination. Like the hazy outline of an aerial city, she vanishes as soon as we look upon her.  She dwells on the edge of a sword, as if perpetually engaged in learning cruelty. Like a creeper she is a parasite, like a river she is full of bubbles, like the sun’s ray on a cloudy day she rests now on one thing and now on another. She regards the virtuous as impure, she despises the lofty as unpropitious, she looks upon the gentle as worthless. She avoids a hero like a thorn, leaps over the courteous man as if he were a snake, shuns the giver of charities as a nightmare. She keeps away from the temperate and mocks at the wise. Her ways are full of jugglery and contradiction. Though creating a fever she produces also a chill; though rising from water she increases thirst; though of earthly mould she is invisible; though attached to the highest she really loves only the base. For the poisonous weeds of desire she is like a fostering shower; for the deer of the senses she is like the hunters alluring song; for the picture of virtue she is like the polluting cloud of smoke. Lakshmi is the cataract filming over the light of wisdom, the lair of the serpent of sin, the watchtower for the monster of pride, the prologue of the drama of deception. Under her influence the heart of a king becomes the abode of shameful thoughts.

And remember, my dear Prince, that success is an uncertain commodity. Sometimes kings are puffed up by their achievements, and their natures are poisoned as if by an accumulation of diseases. Moreover, kings are liable to be tortured by the senses which, though only five in number, turn into a thousand. Pierced by the arrows of Cupid, kings, already sunk in luxury, are struck down and writhe in their agony. To make things worse, they are deceived and misled by rogues who hang around them. These evil companions describe gambling as a relaxation, adultery as a sign of cleverness, drinking as a necessary pleasure, neglect of the family as freedom from bonds. To them contempt of a guru’s words is a sign of originality, disregard of the gods is freedom, flattery is forethought, recklessness is enterprise, and lack of discrimination is impartiality. Guided by such boon companions and cheated by their sweet words, kings become conceited and blind. Though subject to all the limitations of ordinary mortals, they regard themselves as divine beings. They esteem their glances as a favour and their words as a glorious blessing to others. Burdened by the pride of their imaginary greatness, they neglect the gods, slight the teachers, and make fun of the learned as fools wasting their opportunities of pleasure in useless labour. They accept a counselor’s skill only in deception and appoint as their family priests only those charlatans who indulge in magical rites and the like.   
My Prince, you must beware of the fate that overtakes such kings. You must strive never to earn the scorn of your people or the reproaches of your friends. Do not let wolfish courtiers prey upon you, nor rogues mislead you, nor women delude you. I know that steadfast and have been trained for a life of virtue. Yet it is my duty to have warned you. Now go and enjoy your consecration to kinghood. Bear the yoke which will be handed over to you, as your forefathers have borne it. Bend the heads of your enemies and raise the heads of your friends. Crown yourself with glory.”   

Friday, July 20, 2012

RAJESH KHANNA – a layman’s interpretation of the phenomenon

I was born in the year 1966 and Rajesh Khanna started his career a short while later. He became a phenomenon in front of my eyes as I grew up observing the hysteria around me. In those days we used to stay at Margaon Goa a nondescript town not too far from the sea shore with two cinema theatres. On Saturday’s my school used to function for half-day, invariably my mother used to hurriedly push in some lunch into mine and my sisters stomach and then along with her friend Neela Patkar who also was our tutor, we all walked about a kilometer and half to Vasant cinema to reach in time just before the ticket counters opened for the matinee show. Barring the rainy season and the times when we went on holidays to my Grandfathers place, the Saturday matinee movie was a once a month feature in our lives. I remember having seen Dilip Kumar, Rajendra Kumar, Dharmendra, Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Hema Malini, Mumtaz, and Asha Parekh on the screen, in between those moments when I dozed off inside the cinema theatre.

At that small age I understood very few things about the movies. There were some common elements like songs and dances in every movie, a scheming villain and a big fight with the hero just before the end, there were decked up actors and actresses and old crying parents in every movie. But one man was special.  There were other good looking actors and even Dharmendra had a disarming smile, yet Rajesh Khanna was special. Great songs could be attributed to Shammi Kapoor, Rajendra Kumar or Dev Anand but Rajesh Khanna was special. He was not a swashbuckling macho hero, nor did he perform great stunts. He did not possess the acting abilities of Dilip Kumar and when it came to box-office success, Rajendra Kumar was often called Jubilee Kumar, yet Rajesh became the Superstar.

In those days when there were no televisions or internet, people walked over to their neighbour’s home in the evenings for a cup of tea or dinner. Inadvertently Rajesh Khanna was the topic of conversation amongst men and of gossips amongst the ladies over drinks and food. I remember that my father did not like him one bit and my mother swooned at his mention. Most adored him and his movies had a great repeat value. A common boast in those discussions was how many times a person had seen his movie. Folks deliberated for hours, the story line, the script, the acting performance, the director, playback singers, the music director, the melodies, the personal life of the actors, and finally as was customary the main cause for success of the movie was conferred on the shoulders of Rajesh Khanna.

When I look back and try to decipher the madness, the only factor I can see that worked for Rajesh Khanna was his genuineness. He was a man of independent thought and lived life at his own terms. He remained in his personal life a very proud and strong willed yet a vulnerable man and it was this same vulnerability lurking in the shadow of strength that he projected in his earlier roles which made him almost fragile and endearing. This is a paradox since that acting is appreciated where the actor overcomes his personal nature and performs as the character of the role requires. But Rajesh Khanna as he was in those initial days was also exceedingly charming, stylish, a dream-boat. Forget the tilting of the head mannerisms and forget the million dollar smile, but when Rajesh Khanna cried or when he emoted a pensive moment or when wooed the heroine, or when he lightened the mood of his friend and family members on screen, his own personal vulnerability was on display. He was being himself. This invisible vibration is what touched and connected to the hearts of the viewers as they could see the genuineness of the man and not someone trying to act some irrelevant role. People loved his honesty and continued loving him as long as he portrayed himself with honesty in the role. With age Rajesh Khanna the person also changed. The fall of the Superstar started when he was offered such roles where he had to act and had to perform characters he could not connect with until much later in his career in the movie Avataar which once again saw Rajesh Khanna at his brilliant best.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Lothal is an ancient ruin located near the mouth of the Gulf of Kambath in south Gujarat. It was a live township under the Harappan culture belonging to the Indus Valley civilization and experts have marked it to have been occupied during the period from 2400 BC to 1600 BC. That makes it about 3500 year’s old town. How would one like to imagine people living so many thousand years ago? How did they look? What did they wear? How did they live? Were they rustic, uncivilized? Were they hunters, a barbaric lot? Did they practice religion? There is no written history nor are there any pictures or drawings to help us visualize. However a visit to Lothal can clear the cobwebs, demystify the air and make us feel proud of the quality of life that our ancestors lead.

The name Lothal is suggested to mean ‘place of the dead’. This however could not have been the real name of the town when it was in its prime. That name has been lost and during the fag end of its decline the nearby locals have thought it apt to call it Lothal. The same logic goes for Mohenjo Daro another great Harappa city which translates as ‘the mound of the dead’. It appears that the geographical area under the Indus Valley civilization was slowly vacated by its inhabitants and those who could not change with the circumstances remained behind to die for all practicality a painful death. But why did the inhabitants leave? A couple of deductions that archeologists have thought out are; (a) During the rains the main rivers namely Sindhu and Saraswati, constantly changed course causing flash floods and sheet floods. This caused widespread loss to life and property and many a times rendered the city and town unfit for living. Slowly over time due to tectonic shifts in the Himalaya Mountains the Saraswati dried out completely. After repeated and successive catastrophes people became dejected and migrated to the Upper and Lower Ganga fed regions. (b) The seasonal rains slowly changed its intensity and trajectory and started moving south. Desert like conditions came to prevail and life became an ordeal. Saraswati which they claim was a rain fed river soon disappeared. People had no other option but to migrate to the Ganga Valley and plains. (c) The wealth and fame of the Indus Valley people attracted mercenaries from places far away like Europe, Russia and China. The Valley became a flashpoint for attacks as numerous rulers wanted control over its prosperity. Unable to defend itself over prolonged attacks, people thought it wise to migrate to the South and towards to the relative safety of the Ganga basin.

Lothal was a multi-cultural settlement. Earlier to 2400 BC, Lothal was initially occupied by an ethnic local group who were primarily craftsmen, traders and agriculturists. They had great commercial acumen and either sailed the seas to sell their beads crafted out of semi-precious stone and smooth finish pottery of red color with black painted figurine to consumers in Middle East, Indian subcontinent and also to the neighboring Harappa traders of the Indus Valley. They also produced their food grains and lived a simple ordinary life. This is so because their township was not at all sophisticated when compared to the Indus Valley towns which existed during the same time period. However the same cannot be said about their skills as artisans and sailors which gained reputation in far away lands. The Harappan people were attracted by this fame and they entered Lothal over time and started living in close proximity with the craftsmen, purchasing their wares completely and then exporting under their own banner. These two cultural groups coexisted peacefully for some time. It is said that probably a high intensity flood somewhere near 2400 BC caused by river Sabarmati which caused widespread loss to life and property gave the Harappa people a better say in creating a Harappa style town planning at Lothal. The Harappa people then took over the place.

Those were the days when art, philosophy and culture were traditional. However with the influences from the west old traditions were being uprooted and new ones taking shape. Therefore the Veda’s had to be written, the Ramayana as well as the Mahabharata were in the process of being composed. Religion was primarily pre-Hindu which worshipped the natural elements and considered all nature sacred. Sages living in the forest and Ashram schools were popular ways of living. However international trade, wealthy merchants and powerful kings were also visible. Huge mansions, palaces as well as thatched huts of the ordinary folks were all existent. Medical science, physics, mathematics was its zenith with legends like Aryabhatt (master astronomer and mathematician), Acharya Charak (father of medicine), Acharya Kapil (Father of cosmology), Acharya Sushrut (father of plastic surgery), Bhaskaracharya (genius in algebra), Patanjali (father of yoga) to name a few making their mark. When one walks on the grounds of Lothal, one can listen to the 3500 year old bricks telling stories of such time such men women and their lives which they had heard or witnessed.  

The Harappa people took Lothal many notches up in sophistication as far as infrastructure was concerned. They diverted the river water inland and constructed a dockyard to load smaller boats with merchandise which would then transport it to bigger ships on high seas. In the words of Mr. S. R. Rao of Archaeological Survey of India who excavated Lothal and then wrote a book about the place, “The dock built on the eastern flank of the town is an engineering feat of the highest order”. They built a central main street with commercial shops on either side. Residential houses were constructed behind the shops on both sides of the street. A huge palace referred to as the Acropolis for the town’s leader or chief on one side of the town and an even bigger warehouse besides the acropolis to store material belonging to the traders to be imported and exported. All constructions were first laid with many inches of brick work forming a high rise platform to keep the flood water out. Underwater and surface drains connected each and every house and shop to the river for the disposal of waste water and storm water. Such was the sophistication that it would put many a present day towns and villages to shear shame. Unfortunately the vagaries of nature are such that Lothal was destroyed by flood many a times and was rebuilt as many times. Each time the construction was built on the debris of the previous construction. The death bugle was sounded when the river changed course to flow some distance away from the town. Ultimately after a prolonged period of about 800 years of fighting against nature, the place was finally abandoned.

The Harappan people were said to be sticklers for discipline and quality. Consistency was their hall mark. The main street running north-south was of the same size throughout its straight length with no encroachments. Their weight measure which was a constant 8.753 gram to a unit was consistent throughout the region including the Indus valley. They standardized their production process from raw material to finished products so as to take advantage of mass production akin to the present day factory style. But at the same time the craftsman had the freedom to modify a design to make a better product. They made goods made of copper, bronze, hard stone, clay pottery, shell and semi-precious stones and exported then to all four sides of the world. Their seals were identification for quality and value throughout the world. In return they imported gold and gemstone jewelry and other objects of tasteful and better life style. Such was the reputation and living condition of the Harappan people. Similar to the reputation that Americans enjoy today in the eyes of the world.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


A very funny observation about a certain attitude amongst us Indians is that we are generally intolerant about the happiness of others, the wellbeing of others, the success of others but at the same time we are very tolerant and almost sympathetic towards common ill-being, common difficulties shared by us and others. We find it difficult to accept the rich becoming richer or even do not like the poor to become rich and on the other hand we are contented and satisfied when none of us get rich, not even marginally comfortable. This can be seen typically in any organisation during the period of salary increment where employees who have got poor or no salary increments due to weak and no performance are more concerned and unhappy about people getting good or better increments rather than finding solutions for their poor performance. In an event of all the employees getting sacked or given no salary raise there won’t be as much fuss as when a few good performers are rewarded. This tolerance of common plight and shying away from introspection towards individual betterment is the sign of a nation without hope, without responsibility, accountability, without attitude of leadership.

Our political masters have given this phenomenon the name ‘inclusive growth’. It has now become the burden of the government to ensure that all citizens have to improve their living conditions together or there should be none at all. Economic reforms due to which a few groups or individuals making progress in this country have now become distasteful and forbidden. It has been observed during the past two decades that economic reforms have only helped to improve the conditions of a section of society and this has led to the defeat of the ruling party in successive elections. The Congress lost within a few years after Dr. Manmohan Singh introduced economic liberation policies and even Atal Bihari Bajpai lost after proclaiming India Shining. It has been seen even in the state elections in Andhra Pradesh when Naidu lost after pursuing economic policies that helped only Hyderabad raise as a global city. Now it appears that the Congress party which is ruling at the center has taken these lessons very seriously. The Congress think-tank and its High Command makes it a deliberate effort by going against every conventional opinion, to scuttle economic reforms which would help elevate the living conditions of any section of the population. They simply would like to avoid the unhappiness of the remaining. The cost to the nation of such thinking could be enormous but atleast it would lead to the Congress victory at the ballot because the entire population will be in the same boat sailing slowly. The country has now come to a stage where we would witness certain prolonged time frames of slow growth slightly above the Hindu growth rate. Populist measures (some half-baked) prolonging a subsidized economy will continue to rule for a while to come.

The wisdom of men like Dr. Manmohan Singh cannot be denied. Inclusive growth is a worthy goal for any nation. But unless someone is allowed to become the best by personal enterprise how would the others know how much behind they are? Is it possible to take everybody on the bus together? Only those who can afford to buy the tickets will be on the bus, others have to walk. But on the other hand how can one overlook the greed and unscrupulous practices of the profiteers who would go to any extent to project and protect falsehood. The problems faced by the US economy are ample proof. People have to come out of viewing events from their narrow personal circumstance and think for the benefit of all. For this India only needs quality leadership from everyone.