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Monday, January 23, 2012

A Brush with Colours



















I spread the red
in the dark alleys of
 a rain washed canvas.
The green sucked me in,
The yellow burnt.

The brush was about to
blob a dash of crimson
on the ochre of my face.
I shut out all colours.

I started running…
 to the centre of the canvas,
towards the black of a myriad births,
into the deep recess of the Prussian blue

‘Things fall apart
The centre cannot hold’
And there was memory too
The point or the ocean….

Memory is like flowing water
Now here, now there...
Strokes of ulrtra marine blue
With a streak of azure adieu.

I entered water
Where he washed his brush
And thus I was in every stroke
… in every shape and form

And In fiery crimson
We envision
The broken dreams
Of a bougainvillea.

Drowned …
Into a kaleidoscopic black
…no it should have been
Deep grey with a yellow tinge

A hint of a sun-
The seduction of light.

-Nandini




Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Goddess Kali, The Black Mother




         Kali, the Black Mother is feared, revered, misunderstood and loved and is one of the most enigmatic and ambivalent deities of the Hindu pantheon. She is somberly esoteric to tantriks, a loving mother to the Shakta devotee, the formless acquiring form for Krishnananda Agamavagisha, a playful mother to Sri Ramakrishna, an archetype of the paradoxical feminine to Jungians and repressed feminism gone wild to New Age feminists.

          Origins and Evolution: In the Rig-Veda She is mentioned as the terrible goddess Nirriti and also as goddess Ratri. In the Mundakyapanishad, Kali is one of the seven tongues of the fire god Agni  and in the Mahabharata, She is the agent of death who carries off the dead.  Her divine cult took shape in the Markandeya Purana , in the  Devimahatmya, the Shri Durga Saptashati, or the Chandi. Kali is the abstraction of primal energy and is the inherent power of ever-turning time, the relentless devourer that brings all created things to an end. Even the gods are said to have their origin and dissolution in Her.
         The secular texts of the medieval period paint a horrifying picture of Kali as exacting and receiving human sacrifice. But Her image was redeemed by the seventeenth century Bengali Tantric, Krishnananda Agamavagisha. At that time Kali did not have any standard iconography. It is said that the Goddess appeared to him in a dream during the night and instructed him to imagine Her in the very form of the woman whom he would first behold  in the morning. Krishnanada saw a tribal woman pasting cowdung on the wall. Her hands were thus raised in the action but as soon as she saw Krishnananda she stuck out her tongue in shame because her head was not covered.The lolling tongue, according to a more domestic version of the goddess symbolizes her shame and embarrassment as she stepped on her husband’s body.  Esoterically speaking the red tongue is the symbol of raja guna, bitten by her white teeth that stand for sattva guna

          The Darkness, The Blackness: The Rig-Veda says that before creation everything was sheathed in darkness. This primitive darkness is Kali from which all creation emerges and to which it returns,  illustrating the paradox that death feeds on life and life feeds on death in a ceaseless round. According to Mahanirban Tantra just as all colours disappear in black, so all names and forms disappear in the Goddess. Kali’s dark skin symbolizes the absorption of the universe within Herself. Infact Her name is derived from Kaal, which means both ‘black’ and ‘time’.
          But Ramakrishna Paramhansa said that the Divine Mother appears to be black because we behold Her only from a distance, just as the sky appears blue when we look from the earth. But if we go near and know Her intimately, we will find She has no colour at all. The water of the ocean looks blue from a distance but when we go near and see the reality we see it is colourless.
         Her blackness can also be interpreted as the astronomical reality of the black hole that sucks up all light due to its intense gravity. It is the Law of gravity that is behind the concept of Kali sucking up everything and condensing Herself into a tiny point, the bindu.
        The discussion about her dark hue remains incomplete without a reference to the great scholar Sir John Woodroffe. He says “She is naked and dark like a threatening rain cloud. She is dark for she, who is herself beyond mind and speech, reduces all things into the worldly nothingness, which is the Void…at the same time the All, the purna”

        Merging of Paradoxes: Kali embodies wrath and fury.  Her fearful aspect is brought out by her traditional epithet, “Karalbadana”, describing her terrible face. Yet She stands for the reality of Nature in all her benign and also malevolent aspects.  In the form of Uma and Sati , She represents fertility and life generating powers. As Kali, Chamunda and Chinnamasta, She is destruction, violence and death. She symbolizes the paradoxes of life and death, creation and destruction, time and eternity,  passivity and aggression,  beautiful and grotesque, tender and terrifying. Her essence seems to lie in her ambiguity and contradictions.

         I end by quoting two poems. The first one is by Ramprasad, with its familiar tone of talking to a mother. The second is a part of the poem by Swami Vivekananda, deep and cosmic in its significance.  The poems represent the two sides of the Goddess.

“Good grief, haven't you any shame?
Mother don't you have clothes?
Where is the pride of a king's daughter?
And Mother, is this some family duty--
This standing on the chest of your man?” 

-By Ram Prasad


Kali the Mother-
Come, Mother, come!
For terror is Thy name,
Death is in thy breath,
And every shaking step
Destoys a world for e'er.
Thou Time, the All-destroyer!
Come, O Mother, come!
Who dares misery love,
And hug the form of Death,
Dance in destruction's dance
To him the Mother comes.
-        Swami Vivekananda

Nandini Basu

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Cosmic Serpent




First Encounter:
I was awestruck when I saw his movement for the first time. True to his reptilian nature, he was crawling on the ground, but with every glide each part of his body seemed to move independently in motions of a beauteous wave. I had heard that snakes hypnotize their preys, yet I was strangely confident that he will never harm me. In my 8 years stay at Tata Bearings at Kharagpur, I had encountered this much maligned and feared reptile many times.
I had grown up in Calcutta and had never seen snakes, nor even thought about them. The only reference to serpents in my city life was when our English literature teacher explained the Biblical story of the Fall. But when I saw it gliding and shining under a melancholy afternoon sun at Kharagpur, my ideas changed. Soon after a few days I heard all the gardeners shouting that a serpent pair was in `the vicinity. It was supposed to be auspicious to behold a pair of entwined serpents. I too decided to have a look. It was a lonely evening, with an erratic wind blowing and in a neighbour’s lawn I saw a gathering of ladies, cooks and gardeners staring at …well…I was actually quite embarrassed when I realized that everyone was voyeuristically gazing at 2 mating serpents. My city bred mind revolted, but the hypnosis got better…and I too stared at the entwined beauties and I remembered many things.

The Search & Ambivalence:
God Jorgumand in Norse mythology
Lord Vishnu




My mind created a collage of sorts on the canvas of memory… I was soon under the spell of OPHIOLATRIEA and I discovered that the serpent has been worshipped and feared in almost all ancient civilizations. It was one of the most ambivalent mythic symbols in human history, signifying both the powers of good and evil, life and death, deceit and wisdom, eternity and immortality. With its beauty, grace, elegance and terror, the serpent became a symbol of the creative force of the universe. I started searching for the divine serpent and found him in many shapes and narrative forms in the myths and legends of the world. First of all let me examine its moral ambivalence. The Bible portrays it as the personification of evil and deceit yet the Seraphims, the highest order of Angels, are supposed to be the serpents of light and fire. In Indian myths, the serpent is mostly helpful and an aid of the divine. Goddess Durga has a serpent as one of her weapons, Lord Shiva has them hanging around his neck, serpent Vasuki protected the infant Krishna and the serpent king Shesh, also known as Anant, is the cushion on which Lord Vishnu reclines. Lord Buddha was guarded by another serpent king, Muchalinda. We also know that Naga Panchami is a popular festival in India where serpents are worshipped and the serpent goddess Manasha is quite popular in Bengal. But again it was the evil serpent Kaliya who was destroyed by Krishna and in ancient Egypt, Apep was the serpent of darkness and chaos that attacks and defeats Sun god Ra every day.

Hindu Mythic Origins
According to Hindu legend, the mythic serpents were mothered by Kadru. But she was terribly angry when her reptilian brood disobeyed her and cursed them that they will be destroyed one day. This curse came true many years later, when King Janmejaya performed the Sarpa Yajna to kill the serpents, because one of them, Takshak, had bitten and killed his father, King Parikshit.
The serpents are called Nagas in our folklore and were supposed to have their own civilization and territory, the Naglok. Many New Age anthropologists consider the serpents to be a symbol of some superior pre human race, definitely pre Aryan and so King Janmejaya’s serpent sacrifice seems to be an allusion to a genocide perpetrated by a king on the land’s previous inhabitants. But why are serpents considered to be the members of a more advanced pre human race? Again the answer lies in myths.

Teacher and Bearer of the Torch of Knowledge:
The symbol of the serpent, if closely examined, is mostly that of a teacher. In this regard, the most maligned, misunderstood and most popular narrative is that of the forbidden fruit of knowledge, with which the serpent tempted Eve to disobey God. So God as the figure of orthodoxy had fixed a boundary of knowledge…thus far and no further. God is the guardian of a most potent secret. But the serpent as the teacher, wanted knowledge to be democratized and be universally available. It was Eve, who dared to know more, to search and stumble on the secret with unfortunate consequences. …
Serpent as the Teacher is found in Native American myths too. God Quetzalcoatl, shown as a plumed serpent, was supposed to be the one who taught the rudiments of civilization, namely agriculture and fishing, to the human race. Quetzalcoatl was also the god of wisdom, knowledge, rejuvenation and reincarnation. In Hermeticism (an ancient Greco- Egyptian mystic philosophy), Poimander, the cosmic serpent is the one who teaches the history of creation in ‘Corpus Hermeticum.’  Poimander or Pymander is said to be the Mind of God and the Shepherd of Man (so reminiscent of Christ). He is the mystery that pervades all, the serpent deity of knowledge, wisdom and creation.  I believe that these myths that show the serpent as a bearer of superior wisdom and hence a teacher, had given rise to the notion that the reptiles belonged to a more advanced pre human race. But please don’t ask why the modern day snakes are still loitering in the jungles, if they really are descendants of a superior race!! It’s the same case as the monkeys and apes…why are the monkeys still hanging from the trees Mr. Darwin?

The Mysterious Aspects
The Hindu concept of Naglok is an underground mysterious terrain. Its deep inside the bowels of the earth that the mythic naga civilization lies. But the most mysterious aspect of the serpent is its ability to renew and rejuvenate itself by shedding its skin, which is associated with eternity and immortality. When the serpent rejuvenates itself by shedding its old skin, it becomes a psychic symbol of transformation, which is also the core theme in spiritual alchemy. This process is something beyond the scope of the humans and so the serpent is seen as a master of of life, death and rejuvenation. Apart from symbolic immortality it is also seen as a symbol of perfection.  A serpent biting its own tail and thus forming a circle is the symbol of eternal perfection, called Ouroboros.

The Kundalini and DNA



According to the Swiss psychoanalyst, Carl Jung, the snake symbolizes the unconscious mind. The serpent is both male and female, a divine androgyne. Infact the myth of the churning of the ocean (samudra manthan), where the serpent is used as a churning rope,  can be read as a psychic process ( more of this is another post). The Gnostics of early Christianity identified the serpent with the human medulla because the spine is not only an important nervous center but also a carrier of the spiritual energy, called Kundalini. In Tantra, the latent psycho spiritual energy in all humans is conceived to be the coiled serpent goddess Kundalini, residing at the base of the spine. When our energy is fully realized or when we become ‘enlightened’ the goddess, as coiled energy, uncoils and rises through the spine and reaches the brain, the 1000 lotused chakra, the abode of Shiva. So a risen serpent stands for enlightenment and healing in many cultures and the most prominent example in this respect is the caduceus of Aesculepeus which is the icon of modern medicine. It shows a staff, perhaps the symbol of the human medulla, entwined by two serpents, as symbols of healing and awakened spirituality.  They stand for cosmic consciousness. And last of all, the double helix of the DNA is eerily reminiscent of 2 entwined serpents, my wondrous vision in a mundane Kharagpur evening!!



























left: Entwined serpents  Centre:DNA  Right:Caduceus of Aesculepius


© Nandini 2011


For my reader friends who would like to know more on this, go through Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology and the book by Jim Narby on the connection between serpents and DNA. You will get many articles on the net, by Dr. Robert Mason and also an anonymous e book on Ophiolatriea in Sacred Texts.com.










Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blanket of Dreams

Sometimes we need to adjust our glasses, do we not? This life is a game of perspective and proportion! Adjusting angles and optics! Sometimes we think the shadow to be real, sometimes the mouse seems to be a lion and the mass of cold ice, actually a thin sheet that breaks at the slightest pressure!


Have you ever watched your thoughts through the grotto of twilight? It seems so alien and dream like. Your thoughts, just thoughts, the thoughts of the spiritus mundi? I would love to see the sphinx slowly crouch towards Bethlehem, with all its centuries of mummified life! I will ride on the sphinx with all gay abandon, I will run and play through the coloumns of the courtyard in the Temple of Ra at Heliopolis! I will startle at my own shadow under the intense gaze of the noon day sun! I will let the stars fall from my fingers at night, I will lick the edge of the moon during my in-between-meals hunger, I will go to sleep like a queen with my blanket of dreams, I will be the crown on the head of the fairy queen, I will breathe like the night winds of the desert, I will laugh, laugh to the soprano of the delightful deluge! I will crush, with all might and passion just to build anew, I will make a giant dough, I love to make doughs of flour but this time I will make a dough of delight and bake it into an altered reality! I want to whisper a secret into my fairy godmother's ears! And at last I pasted darkness though my fevi quick gave way!



© Nandini Basu 2011



Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Gift of the Valentine



  That’s Amore, I tell you that’s amore, when the sky seems more blue and even the cawing of Mr Black is melodious. Love’s in the air, they say and Valentine’s is just around the corner. For the young in Kolkata, the season of love starts from Saraswati puja and peaks on the 14th Feb. Now don’t tell me that the Goddess of Learning is a serious faced bore, who doesn’t help you to ‘learn’ about love!!  The first glimpses in the Saraswati pandal, or at the puja in that college or in your friend’s place… Its true you can’t call this the World Wide Web of Saraswati, but definitely it’s the Local Area Network!!
. But in the celestial sphere, the departments of Saraswati and Valentine are separate (though there is some inter-departmental muddling in this strange East Indian city). Valentine is not the god of love, the way Cupid or Venus is, or even our Kamdev and Madan. He is the patron saint of Love and there are many theories about the origin of Valentine’s Day. Some say that Saint Valentine was a priest in ancient Rome who defied Emperor Claudius’s order that soldiers could not marry. He performed secret wedding rituals for lovers, or even saved prisoners from the harsh tortures of the regime. According to another theory, Valentine’s festival was a Church attempt to Christianize the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia.
Whatever may have been the origins of the festival, my greatest regret remains, that when the Valentine culture really caught on in India, raging like wild fire, we were already out of college (I graduated in the prehistoric year of 1989). During those days, Valentine’s was still in its infancy in this country. Newspapers and magazines used to carry initiatory articles on the cult. I happened to read in some supplement, an interview of a celebrity messiah who said that Valentine’s Day was not only for a lover or boyfriend, but anybody you loved deeply, a parent, a sibling, even a pet. I had jumped up at the suggestion because I, and many other hapless, uncharismatic individuals like me, did not have a confirmed ‘Valentine’. Human Valentine was mostly a possibility, a potential energy, nothing kinetic. J So my pet rabbit was my Valentine one year, and next year it was my grandma ( now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to say my grandma was not human) . And I was a bit sad, that neither my rabbit Naadu nor grandma had the common sense to gift me something in return!! What I should have celebrated was the anti Valentine’s Day!!
But in those ancient times, when Valentine’s itself was new, people hadn’t yet heard of the anti Valentine’s! No, it is not the moral brigade, burning Archie’s showrooms, but something more interesting. Anti Valentine’s is a celebration of the single status. Some people feel that the equation of love relationship with happiness is a myth. But the majority feel otherwise and they senselessly take the catastrophic decision to marry on the Day of Love. Tragically, Valentine’s Day becomes their Dooms day!! Of course there are survivors in any catastrophe, and those who still love each other, inspite of marrying on Valentine’s Day, are the ones that got saved in Noah’s Ark.
 Valentine’s Day is not only about love, but the best way to express it. With the great advances in printing technology, the greetings cards have entered the arena, and it was a big help in those times when direct expression of feelings was a taboo. Even now, printed cards are the only help for the tongue tied! According to the Greeting Cards Association, about one billion Valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending occasion, next only to Christmas. And we must not forget that it was Archie’s, a greetings card brand, that popularized and commercialized the whole Valentine concept in the non Christian, non European world. And now there are women’s magazines, or lifestyle magazines, that tell us, rather teach us how to impress a loved one. They guide each and every step in our personal lives. These magazines have graduated from teaching cookery, to teaching their readers how to impress a husband, how to adjust with a bossy mom in law, how to cope in a live in relationship, how to accept if your child is discovered gay, how to… well…ahemm!! more serious stuff!!! Sorry…see how I digress! Anyway, so as I was saying about the Valentine culture…and these women’s magazines too helped us to learn to love in the Valentine’s way.
Apart from printed cards, the gifts and jewellery brands too are making lucrative business, not to forget the chocolates. The costs of the Valentine gifts, given and received, decide many things in the lives of young people. It becomes not only a mark of status, but also a quantification of their love. So in this age of ‘gifted’ love, I can’t help remembering the ageless short story, ‘The Gift of the Magi’…it goes like this… Della and Jim are a married couple who love each other very much. But they are poor. On Christmas, they want to give each other a very special gift. Della decided to give Jim a costly chain for his precious watch, so she cut off and sold her lovely long hair. Jim wanted to give her a comb for her long cascading hair and he sold his precious watch to buy the comb. The discovery led to both joy and dismay. It was the beauty of sacrifice that made their love so poignant, and they sacrificed their most cherished and precious possessions for each other. Though it is a story about Christmas gifts but their love makes it applicable for Valentine too.
Lastly, I salute those great lovers and couples who hardly got the opportunity to express their loves, or those, for whom such celebratory expressions were mere superficialities; The couples who have sacrificed their lives and happiness for the sake of the beloved, cared, nurtured and nursed their loves in times of sickness and need; Those loves that were and still are silent and deep, moving beyond the rose and the red heart!! J


© Nandini Basu 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Goddess Saraswati


She comes with the music of the Veena, mounted on the gracious white swan that rings her white bells of divinity. She is Saraswati, the deity of  knowledge, wisdom, speech, intelligence, consciousness, arts and music. Though she is traditionally considered to be the (younger?) daughter of Goddess Durga, the Matsyapuran tells a different story. There she is the daughter and wife of Brahma, who had created her out of his own self but later became her consort.  But the moral unease of such an interpretation has been obliterated by the more domestic image of Saraswati as one among four siblings, visiting her maternal home every year!
 In the Rig Veda she was originally a river goddess, river Saraswati being one of the main rivers in ancient Vedic culture (apart from the Indus.) River Saraswati was supposed to have 3 main triburtaries, the Sutlej, Drishadvati and old Yamuna. The deity’s association with water not only proves the importance of rivers in ancient cultures but a more primordial connection with precosmic primal water that nourished the first life in the universe. The water may also be the symbol of life in the womb, nurtured by the embryonic fluid. It can also represent any form of fluidity, that of speech, knowledge and consciousness. The flowing river is also the metaphor of a journey or transformation that evolves our consciousness. Saras…flowing, watery….and water is the mainstay of life.
Pallas Athena
The name Saraswati also has Middle Eastern associations. Etymologically, it echoes the river Haraikhati mentioned in the Persian Zendavesta. But it is debatable whether the Persian Aryans settled here and brought with them the name and memory of the river Haraikhati , or whether ancient Vedic people migrated to Iran later and called the river there with the name that echoed Saraswati! In the Avesta she is the deity of water known as Aredvi Sura Anahita and also the goddess of wisdom. She reverberates in many corners of the ancient world. The ancient Greeks had Pallas Athena as the deity of knowledge and wisdom (Athena was also associated with warfare). Just as Brahma had created Saraswati from his own self, for which she is regarded as his daughter, Athena too is supposed to have originated from the forehead of Zeus, the king of gods. This Greek symbolism has been interpreted as the creative urge that gives rise to intellectual creation and thus Zeus underwent a terrible headache at her birth. In Egypt, the deity of knowledge, wisdom, writing and language was the ibis headed god Thoth or Tehuti, the source of all secular and divine knowledge. Thoth was also the presiding deity of magic which was important in most of the ancient cultures. He was sometimes identified as Hermes Trismegistus in Greco Egyptian occult literature.
Tehuti or Thoth
With the connection of Tehuti and Hermes, we come to another aspect of Saraswati as the goddess of speech or Vac. In the occult text of ‘Corpus Hermeticum’  the Logos (word) is supposed to be the ultimate creative principle of Life and Consciousness. It was a doctrine of salvation. The same idea is found in the Gospel of John, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ Saraswati too symbolizes the creative power of sound, the personification of the Word.
Thus the magical aspect of the First Word as sacral speech or primal logos gets intertwined with precosmic primal water. Water nurtures life, Word gives it form and the ordered cosmos is created. Saraswati combines all these archetypal images and more. She is the Primordial that gives birth to reason and consciousness. After all the western psychological associations of the feminine with unreason and irrationality, its refreshing to discover that intelligence, reason and consciousness have feminine roots…but now if you choose to concentrate more on the father oriented, asexual birth of Saraswati, you are after a wild goose chase and we will be back to the old riddle of the chick and the egg!! J

© Nandini Basu 2011

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fairytales




My lonely walks
across the meadow
of your heart…
I lost my way in the fog
of your memory.
I was invisible as the wind
As shadowy as your own shadow….

I stared at the chameleon in you
I was thrilled like a child….
For at last I saw the unicorn
or the dragon
out of a fairytale book.

Your scales were fiery
Touched the chimney in my kitchen
The heat of my oven cooled
The final shape,
settled into the mould
of the evening.

I don’t have to make
moulds anymore
because the sun stares
at my face all night long.

© Nandini Basu 2011





Sunday, August 29, 2010

Prelude to a Prayer


The innocence of the naked moment
Is all that ever was.
The rest is fiction

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer





Summer, the season of a blinding sun
Indoors and cool lemonades-
The half empty streets of Rajasthan
And the nocturnal desert serenades.

Summer, the season of warm whispers
Of a damp wetness all around
A room littered with glasses, jugs and sippers
A shrivelled face covered in a shroud.

Summer, the season of scorching mystery
A dried wrinkled face without a name
The martyred leaves of every tree
The tortured and torturer at their game.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Comedy of Manners

The Telegraph. 19th August 2003.

Comedy of Manners.



I literally had to coerce my son to attend his classmate’s birthday party. ‘But Ma, I don’t play with Suhel…he’s not my friend…yesterday he bit my finger… here…see. I am katti with him and for life!’ wailed my six years old son. I had to explain politely yet firmly that it was bad manners to decline an invitation unless it was absolutely necessary. But he was firm in his stand. I tried another line ‘Well see, the fact that he’s invited you means you are his friend.’ My son lifted his sulky face and replied ‘No Mamma, that’s because you are friends with his Mamma.’  True. And for the first time in my life I felt guilty for having a friendly disposition.
Everyday, as I go over to pick up my son from school, I bump into mothers like me. And as we wait for the last bell to go, we chat. Initially, our conversations used to revolve around the children: classrooms, teachers, homework, and exams. But gradually as the daily interactions have become a well settled routine, we have veered towards the personal. Children have moved into the background as we explore everything – households, hairdressers, husbands, with each other. Little groups have been formed. Everyone wants to befriended Parikshit’s mom (‘He is the first boy after all’). While Prakash’ mom is persona non grata ( ‘Doesn’t she have a horrid dress sense! And Prakash is so wild. Why doesn’t she do something about it?’). mercifully, it’s a 15 minute a day bonding session, except for special occasions (like the above invitation) when they spill into ‘real time’.
The venue for that evening’s party was a posh city club. To save my son some heartache, I decided to go in rather late. The place was chock full of ‘school moms’. And it was pretty obvious that the mothers were having a wonderful time. They were dressed to the nines, shrieking with laughter and talking to each other like long lost friends. In total contrast to the frolicking mothers, however the children looked somber and forlorn. Though they studied in the same school, in the same class, they were hardly interacting with each other. Some even looked lost and out of place. I couldn’t help commenting on that. My friend, the hostess explained, ‘It’s quite natural you know… after all kids also have their own groups and they rarely play outside those. But honestly, if I had to invite all his friends along with mine (courtesy: son’s school) the guest list would be never ending.’
Fair enough. But as I continued to stare at the children, my friend went on to explain, ‘Actually, Suhel wanted to invite Harsh, his current best friend. But you know his mother, don’t you? She’s a perfect horror. Who’s going to invite her? That’s why Suhel is sulking.’
That was the beginning. A few days later, our small family of three was invited by another boy’s parents; this time to an up market and happening restaurant. I wondered about the occasion. My friend gushed, ‘you see, my husband hasn’t met his son’s friends’ parents. And I keep talking about you all. So we just planned this get together.’ The concept seemed to be an instant hot with other ‘moms’. There was a collective ‘Of course. We should all host such parties once a month. Next time it will be my turn.’ And after fountains of drinks and mountains of food were consumed, the guests thanked the hosts profusely, and the sleepy eyed jittery children followed their parents home.
Days passed by and the ‘mom’ sorority continued to flourish. But the more the friendships crossed the threshold of school and made inroads into our lives, the more uneasy I felt. It wasn’t as if it wasn’t a nice and pleasant lot. But the nagging feeling that the children were becoming peripheral in our concerns just wouldn’t leave me.
And just as I had managed to lull my conscience to sleep, it happened.  One afternoon my son returned from school, all excited and happy. ‘Ma, I’ll finish off my homework right now,’ he jumped up and down in excitement, ‘Jai has invited me to his Birthday in the evening.’ But when I asked him where his friend stayed, my son was taken aback ‘That I don’t know! He just said that his mom would not invite me but that he wanted me to be there. So he asked me to come on his own…so many people are going. And I am after all his best friend And Ma, his cake will look like a giant bike……’
I did not know how to explain the intricacies of the adult world to a six year old. I put in an alternative suggestion: ‘Why don’t we go to Nicco Park instead?’ My son looked puzzled-----‘But you said the other day that it was bad manners to refuse an invitation unless absolutely necessary?’

Nandini Basu


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Some silly poems written in 1992.


The Oracle  ( After reading Yeats and the Greek classics. The oracle here is an imaginary amalgamated figure.Not just Tiresias)

Thus spake Apollo through
the lips of his devotee true.
The oracle of Delphi divine
the wisdom beyond homo-design.

The oracle father within his heart,
bore the lofty Aesculepian art,
condemned Oedipus when he came,
warned him of his fate of shame.

Sceptic Socrates challenged him
in Athens thus faith grew dim.
Great intellects of Attic thus
opposed Sophism and all the fuss,
of the hemlock man's  cult of doom,
that swept away Zeus soon.

Swept away is the base
of civilazation and human race.
The gods have died a premature death,
and so would happen, the oracle hath saith.

The oracle father was the bond
of earthly knowledge and that beyond
which lies in misty milky way,
without temporal night or day.
Where eternal mystery pervades all
and heaven is silent to human call.



Written in memory of Prof. Dr. A. W. Mahmood.


I recollect seeing him
from the eternity of
 my mother's womb.
I recollect the sombre hymn
he sang of wisdom's doom.
I recollect seeing his
silvery hair and I miss
his wrinkled loving face
in front of me - symbol
of a vanished race
of men of knowledge.
He has his ancestry 
back to the ancient tree.
The tree of Vedic Knowledge
the tree of an Aryan air.


I recollect seeing those faces
of men I think I knew
in my previous births.
Births of Neanderthal races
to Paleolithic ages
coming down to Cromagnon
and the grim faced Grimaldi,
that intermixed freely and 
transformed into the Mongoloid,
Caucasoid and Negroid,
preparing us for the eternal void,
soon to usurp the racial 'oid',
embracing creation in
 a passionate nothingness.
The virile love of destruction
for the beauty of creation.


Those creatures dwelling
in my grey cells
have begun singing and dancing
like primordial men-
uncontrolled, breathing life
and exuding life and
paralyzing senses
into a mere consciousness.
In a second the flame goes out.
What matters most?
To find it, do we roast
our knowledge or fry it?
or boil to the point
 where everything is ether lit.


It is the inevitability.
It is the last smile
of understanding futility.
La Gioconda knows it
Da Vinci taught it.
She smiles at him and at it.


 Grief


Something suffocating.
Something terrible.
Something inexplicable.
Something saddening.
Something sometimes troublesome.
Something sometimes tear some
to control.



Sunday, June 6, 2010

Oh! The Pokemon!

Woman's Era. October (first) 2004



It is 10 pm but I cannot lay the table for dinner…its time for the great show. My 7 year old flung his hands in the air and explained how important it was for him to watch ‘Pokemon’! ‘Ma, the whole class watches this cartoon . If I don’t watch it how will I join their discussion tomorrow?’
I tried to be friendly, ‘So beta, on what lines do you discuss Pokemon?’
‘Oh that you wont understand Ma, you don’t watch it na!!’
I realized that watching this particular cartoon was the primary requirement of an advanced IQ! My husband, who for so long had been engrossed in memorizing the newspaper, sat up and looked at us and suddenly announced that he too would watch the cartoon show. He definitely did not want to be excluded from his son’s world so early in life.
We had initially mistaken the Pokemon for a Pokeman, a cousin of Batman or Spiderman. But our son enlightened us that Pokemon was the short form of pocket monsters, the hybrid animals with magical powers. The cartoon tells the story of their young trainer Ash Ketchum who dreamt of becoming the greatest Pokemon master in the world.
After half and hour of the show, my husband seemed to be a changed man… ‘Its all so innocently beautiful!’ he commented in a serene absent minded voice. ‘There were so many children with so many magical animals, creating an alternative world of their own. What strange names they have got, and some look so cute…Pikachu, Meowth, Charizard….’
‘And what’s new about hybrid animals? Didn’t the great Sukumar Ray write about all these…remember hasjaru, bokocchop and hatimi?’ I asked teasingly. He chuckled. ‘But did we go so crazy about Abol Tabol?’
We didn’t, but they do. They live and breathe Pokemon. They want Pokemon toys and Pokemon gifts and they all aspire to be Pokemon masters. Last Christmas I had a tough time looking for Pokemon toys. All the famous toy shops had a regret smile. ‘They are selling like hotcakes ma’m, here are only a few left.’ I, as the secret Santa was disappointed. The more favourite Pokemons were all sold out.
The trickier aspect of this all is that a food brand has started distributing free Pokemon tazos (whatever those circular discs are). So now it’s absolutely normal and cool for a child to get a packet of those chips on a daily basis. If old fashioned parental authority still exists in the household, then it can come down to twice or thrice a week. My son ruefully narrated the list of ‘affectionate’ moms who everyday gave their children, chips with free Pokemon tazos inside. I couldn’t help asking about the effect of this enormous junk consumption on the kid’s digestive system.
The answer I got was astounding. ‘No, they don’t get stomach problems, for they don’t have to eat the whole packet. Their mothers don’t keep other snacks items at home. Like you, they don't buy biscuits and mixtures…its only Cheetos. Rahul and Niraj and Sourav and…. Serve their guests Cheetos. Their parents too eat Cheetos when they come home from office. The ayah mashis also eat Cheetos in their house….’
I felt it was becoming a bit too much. Maybe I should contact some other hapless mom like me for more authentic information. I decided to call up Rohini. She was delighted to hear my voice but the moment she heard my real query she became gloomy. ‘Don’t ask me Nandini how I am coping with the crisis. Everyday the teacher is complaining in the diary. Rahul takes 10 rupees from home, buys the Cheetos, takes the tazo out from the packet and throws the entire packet in the dustbin. Imagine the waste and the attitude! His point is he must have the maximum number of tazos in his class. And when the teacher found the tazos, she threw them into the dustbin after school. But that didn’t stop Rahul! He dug his hands deep into the dustbin after school. So now the teacher breaks and then throws the tazos!’
I asked, ‘But Rohini why do you give him 10 rupees everyday? My son told me that you eat and serve only Cheetos as snacks nowadays?’
She was silent for sometime and then said cautiously…. ‘Er Nandini, my son Rahul told me the same thing about you people. I wanted to speak to you about it.’
I came down to Mother earth with a thump and did not know what to say. I was only grateful that Rohini could not see my embarrassed state over the phone. I fumed and brooded as I walked up and down my little flat. I imagined a thousand ways to confront the mischievous creature when he came home from school.
The culprit entered, washed and sat down for lunch. I looked for a suitable time to broach the topic but the look on his tired and innocent face made me melt a little. After all maybe he was only reporting what his more innovative friends fabricated. As he lifted the first morsel to his mouth, he shrieked in pain… ‘Its burning Ma. Today Ayan and Raj fought like hell. We went to separate them and we too got hurt badly….here see this finger, it is still bleding!’
‘Its high time you boys stopped this hooliganism during tiffin break!’ I reproached as I passed the spoon and stuck the band aid.
‘ But you should have seen them Ma. Ayan said he was Sunny Deol and Raj was Sunil Shetty. Raj hit Ayan so hard that he was bleeding from the nose. Ayan then gave a blow, Raj fell down and was bleeding from the forehead. And then Father Brian caught them by the ears and dragged them into his room!’
‘God knows why they are allowed to watch all that violence on TV!’ I said to myself. My son heard me… ‘No, not God only, I also know why…because they were watching too much Pokemon and their mothers stopped the cartoon channels. So now its only the dhisum dhisum channels and dance dance channels for them.!’
‘Oh Pikachu and Charizard, save me!’ I thought. Such insights on child rearing coming from the child himself.
Maybe the Pokemon is better, no violence, no sexual innuendo, but only a magical reality. What’s the harm if the children dream? As long as the chips and tazo menace is under control!! And that evening I served an early dinner. For the first time in his life my son ate within a reasonable 15 minutes! He had to watch the cartoon. Dinner table was no more a bargain centre for lesser food and more time!
‘But why so early today?’ asked both father and son as they got up to wash their hands. ‘Because I too shall watch Pokemon!’ I announced casually.
I heard giggles and some camouflaging coughs

Nandini Basu.