Nandita Das Delights at Stanford

Born in British India, Manto migrated from his beloved Bombay to Lahore, Pakistan after Partition. Many of his stories reflect his heartbreak and disaffection at the violence and inhumanity that ensued on both sides of the British-imposed border.

I had watched the film “Manto” on Netflix a few days earlier, and was deeply moved and impressed by the directorial choices, acting, and Manto’s integrity which shone through every scene.

Das was introduced by Jisha Menon, Associate Professor of Theater and Performance Studies at Stanford.

Menon remarked that 20 years ago, when she was still a student a Stanford, she saw Das debut in Deepa Mehta’s film 1988 “Earth” based on Bapsi Sidhwa’s novel “Cracking India.” Das was “luminous” in that role, she said, and 20 years later, is still luminous.

Other panelists were Usha Iyer, Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies, and Asha Jadeja Motwani, an investor who was one of the producers.

Das showed video clips of several scenes throughout the event. The first was the Irani Café scene, where Manto sits with other writers, members of the Progressive Writers’ Association: his dear friend Ismat Chughtai, Kishan Chander, and Manto’s wife Safia. Das mentioned that Manto himself never joined PWA, he resisted anything organized.

Their very first court case was a joint trial: Manto for “Boo” (“Smell”), and Chugtai for “Lihaaf” (“Quilt”). At that time they were filled with optimism, bravado. By Manto’s sixth trial for “Thanda Gosht” (“Cold Meat”), he had lost a lot of that bravado.

He was a prolific writer. He died at 42 with 300 short stories and hundreds of plays and poems to his name. Das had originally thought to cover the period from 1942 to 1952 in her film. In the 4 years it took her to write the script, she had to make many choices on what to depict. This film was her attempt to humanize Manto.

Manto was interested in individuals, “the other.” In the Irani Café scene he says to his friends, “If you cannot tolerate my stories, then you can’t cannot tolerate the world: we live in unbearable times.”

Das spoke of how she got close to Manto’s family. She learned more from them than from any other source.  At this point, Jadeja asked her what was the most interesting thing she had learned from the family. Das mentioned that Safia developed a rash that went away only after Manto died. Sometimes stress comes out in strange ways. Then Jadeja asked if Safia was “passive-aggressive.”  An odd and somewhat disruptive question. Das calmly responded that she shows some of the steel in Safia in one of the scenes, in the next video clip, of Manto and his family at dinner. Manto says to Safia, “I will write enough so you never go hungry.” And she responds immediately, “That’s my worry, that we will go hungry because of your writing.” Das remarked that Manto’s daughters gave her those lines.

His nephew Hamid Jalal (whose daughter Ayesha Jalal is Professor of History at Tufts University) wrote an essay called Uncle Manto. And he was very sad that Manto died before it was complete, concluding the essay in words to that effect.

In the film, scenes from Manto’s stories are juxtaposed with accounts of his life, and it is sometimes hard to tell when a story begins. Das shared that she uses a small device. Manto’s character looks into the camera when a story starts. A few minutes of “100 watt bulb” were shown—a scene with increasing tension ending with startling violence. The woman depicted simply wanted to sleep. Das’s direction brings out Manto’s deep compassion for his disadvantaged subjects.

Das spoke of the element of surprise without manipulation in his stories: he is not sentimental.

Usha Iyer asked about the Raftaar rap song used to market the film. Das interjected that she had nothing to do with it.

There are certain fictional elements to bring in things that were important to Das. For example nothing was written of Manto’s response to Gandhi’s killing. But she felt it important to include.

She talked of “Manto-esque” people. If you have conviction, courage will follow. We all have the will to be more courageous, more open-minded. Manto said “Don’t say one lakh Hindus have died and one lakh Muslims have died, say two lakh human beings have died.”

Jadeja, to whom the professors had politely handed over the microphone, proceeded to ask a puzzling question about Puritanism in the film (it was not clear to me what she was asking), and followed it up inexplicably with “Do you not like Faiz?” “I have the greatest respect,” Das immediately responded, saying she has included two of Faiz’s poems in the film. Shortly thereafter, Jisha Menon took the mic back, to my great relief.

When Das comes to an NRI audience, she’s asked why are you showing the bad side of India? It is all about intention, she said. Do you milk it, or do you say this is my country: here is the good and the bad. You can know the intention of the maker, whether they wish to titillate, manipulate or genuinely show the reality.

She spoke of the conversation between Manto and his beloved friend Shyam. Shyam was lamenting the attacks on his uncle’s family in Pakistan. Angry at Manto for his seemingly high-handed literary references, he exclaimed that they were real people. Manto responded that either everyone’s life counts or no one’s.

An interesting piece of information she shared is that no Indian or international film that is set in Lahore has ever been shot in Lahore. Das was determined to but couldn’t, she was stopped. She looked for a place resembling Lahore in India, and found a place in Gujarat.

Jadeja talked about dinner with a friend at whose house she met Nandita Das.  The director had mentioned that she was raising money for a film.  While the topic was interesting to Jadeja, she said, “As a VC, I thought I won’t make any money on this.” Das exclaimed to the audience with humor and wisdom, “Those who have a lot of money want to make more money!”

In the next video clip, of Manto and Safia in the garden, we see the rash on her arm, and her distress at the alcohol in his breath on which even their little daughter commented.

Next, we see Manto’s statement in court that his controversial story “Thanda Gosht (“Cold Meat”) is literature. In that scene, he talks of Flaubert and Joyce and how they faced charges for their “Madame Bovary” and Ulysses” respectively. “My stories are the mirrors for society to see itself,” he said, “If someone has a problem with what they see, how am I to blame?”, adding “Neem leaves are bitter, but they purify the blood.”

The first question in the audience Q&A session was about the casting of Nawaz Siddiqui. Das said he was in “Firaaq”, her directorial debut, 10 years ago, and when Das mentioned to him that she was going to make a film on Manto, he said “I’ll give you two years! I’ll give you however long you need.” But by the time the she was ready to start the film, he had become a star! He was acting in “Munna Michael”. He did not have a lot of time to inhabit the role of Manto and deferred to her direction. But, she added, “he brought his authenticity and his beautiful eyes.”

The next question was about the form of the film, and questioner went on to ask about the meta-fictional aspect of the film. Das asked, to my delight, what does that mean? On hearing the questioner clarify that it was about the stories within a story, Das responded that she hasn’t studied film, it was quite organic. She decided to start the film with Manto’s story “Das rupiya” (“10 rupees”). The 14 your old girl seems happy and also you see the beauty of Bombay but it also makes you uncomfortable. There is a sense of foreboding. The girl is laughing but as the three men try to grab her, you think something is going to happen. So, to answer the question on form, it all came about very organically. For example, she did not do auditions, she just talked to the actors. She spoke with a wide range of actors, some very experienced and others, novices.

Who were some current fearless storytellers that she could name? She answered that she doesn’t like to name names, as it undermines those who are not named.

The next question was about how she balances artistic merit with commercial needs. Das responded that she is tried to make the film she wanted to make. No one knows the formula for commercial success! It is not a science; film is part of the arts because there is this alchemy,

She was asked about the production history. In her response, she mentioned Hewlett-Packard, and HP’s Satjiv Chahal, Vikrant Batra, and Jean-Pierre le Calvez (whose role at this event was primarily starting and stopping the video clips from a laptop by the podium.) HP was the official partner for Cannes. There she met Batra and mentioned that she was raising money for a film about a writer. He replied that there was alignment with HP’s tagline: “Power of Ink!” Viacom 18, the film studio was also a producer, better known for huge productions like Padmavat. Das ended up being producer, which was very demanding on top of everything else. In her next project, se declared, she will first look for a producer. Of course, art needs patrons. What it also needs is faith. (“Asha, are you listening?” she quipped to Jadeja.)

She was once asked what does the director do? She said a film like an orchestra and the director is the conductor. You have a vision and you share it. She took her driver to see the film and his reaction was as she had hoped.

A sophomore from Pakistan asked why Das hadn’t shown more of Faiz or something else. Das explained that it’s a two-hour film, you have to make choices.

The event ended with a video clip of Toba Tek Singh, one of Manto’s most celebrated stories.

Naatak, the Bay Area’s Indian Theatre company had put on a distinguished stage production of Toba Tek Singh in 2017, which I reviewed earlier. I noticed some Naatak members sprinkled in the audience—kindred spirits.

In the end Manto himself becomes Toba Tek Singh: in between India and Pakistan, on a piece of land with no name, lay Toba Tek Singh, and Manto.

Das thanked the audience with folded hands, and invited everyone for the screening of “Manto” in San Jose the following day.  If you can’t make it, she added, you can watch it on Netflix.

“This article was originally published at www.rajiwrites.com and is included here with permission.” 

This article was edited by Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D.

Cover photo credit: Geetika Pathania Jain

An Immigrant Story

India Currents publisher, Vandana Kumar, was a guest on Bolly 92.3FM from 10-11am on The Power Hour with Yogi Chugh and Dharminder Dewan this weekend.

As a new immigrant, Vandana Kumar co-founded India Currents magazine in 1987 and published an award-winning print magazine for 32 years. She has stewarded India Currents to flourishing readership over decades, winning multiple awards for her cultural and business leadership.

Her immigrant story is an inspiring one and it was a great dialogue about her own story and the origin of India Currents and its successes over the years.

It was broadcast live on www.bolly923FM.com

Date/Time Event
Mar 2, 2019 - Jun 9, 2019
12:00 am
Yoga Teachers Training Certification Program
Yoga Teachers Training Certification Program
Lundy Plaza, San Jose California
Mar 3, 2019 - Mar 30, 2019
All Day
200 hour Yoga Course
200 hour Yoga Course
Rishikesh Yoga Retreats, Rishikesh Uttaranchal
Mar 22, 2019 - Mar 30, 2019
12:00 am
The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar
The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar
Sunnyvale Thetaer, Sunnyvale CA
Mar 22, 2019
6:00 pm - 10:00 pm
Unity Dinner 2019 – Celebrating Women’s History Month
Unity Dinner 2019 – Celebrating Women’s History Month
India Community Center, St. Milpitas CA

Why India Sent Fighter Jets to Pakistan

Statement by Shri Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary on 26 February 2019 on the Strike on JeM training camp at Balakot

February 26, 2019

On 14 February 2019, a suicide terror attack was conducted by a Pak based terrorist organization Jaish-e-Mohammad, leading to the martyrdom of 40 brave jawans of the CRPF. JeM has been active in Pakistan for the last two decades, and is led by MASOOD AZHAR with its headquarters in Bahawalpur.This organization, which is proscribed by the UN, has been responsible of a series of terrorist attacks including on the Indian Parliament in December 2001 and the Pathankot airbase in January 2016.

Information regarding the location of training camps in Pakistan and PoJK has been provided to Pakistan from time to time. Pakistan, however, denies their existence. The existence of such massive training facilities capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of Pakistan authorities.

India has been repeatedly urging Pakistan to take action against the JeM to prevent jihadis from being trained and armed inside Pakistan. Pakistan has taken no concrete actions to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism on its soil.

Credible intelligence was received that JeM was attempting another suicide terror attack in various parts of the country, and the fidayeen jihadis were being trained for this purpose. In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary.

In an intelligence led operation in the early hours of today, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated. This facility at Balakot was headed by MAULANA YOUSUF AZHAR (alias USTAD GHOURI), the brother-in-law of MASOOD AZHAR, Chief of JeM.

The Government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence this non-military preemptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties. The facility is located in thick forest on a hilltop far away from any civilian presence. As the strike has taken place only a short while ago, we are awaiting further details.

The Government of Pakistan had made a solemn commitment in January 2004 not to allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India. We expect that Pakistan lives up to its public commitment and takes follow up actions to dismantle all JeM and other camps and hold the terrorists accountable for the actions.

No Censor Board for Made in Heaven’s co-director Alankrita Shrivastava

An exclusive interview with Alankrita Shrivastava, whose last film, Lipstick Under My Burkha (2017) was promptly banned in India for its frank portrayal of female desire. Now, with other female film-makers, Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, who have co-written the series, she has found a platform on Amazon that circumvents the fusty genteel sensibility of the Indian Censor Board. She spoke to Culture and Media Editor Geetika Pathania Jain of India Currents about how the series Made in Heaven (2019) challenges not just the norms of society but also, with the help of technology, its institutions.

So many women I know are bingeing on Made in Heaven (2019) just released in March, a fast-paced and highly entertaining and thoughtful series that takes on the chhee-chhhee (ewww) topics of homosexuality, adultery, sexual abuse, #metoo, and also women’s rights, ageism, and the Big Fat Indian Wedding.

Tina Fey wondered aloud at the Oscars 2019 if microwave ovens would soon begin to make movies, a nod to how Hollywood studios are now routinely jostling on the red carpet with technology upstarts like Netflix and Amazon. Alankrita Shrivastava explains how streaming services like Amazon help film-makers circumvent the Indian Censor Board, patriarchy, and hetero-normative norms.

“There is a subconscious self-censorship that always happens. So that is the conditioning that will take many years to break down. So in India I feel we are kind of conditioned… in the case of Lipstick Under My Burkha, they didn’t know what to do with it — they just banned it. So you have to pass that test, and anything can happen with the Censor board. So it’s very freeing to write stuff, shoot it and then just the way you intended it to be, it played out like that.

It’s very freeing… but having said that, I don’t feel that just because we can tell stories on the digital platform, free from censorship, that we should give up our fight to resist censorship in the theatrical space, or in the broadcast space.”

Hear the full interview below:

 

Geetika Pathania Jain, Ph.D., is Culture and Media Editor at India Currents.

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Si Se Puede! Yes, We Can!

On the evening of Sunday, March 3rd 2019, The School of Arts and Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza, San Jose,  was the venue for an interesting portrayal of the life of one of America’s famous civil rights leaders, Cesar Chavez. What set this production apart was not only the object of the story, but the medium of storytelling. Cesar Chavez and his celebrated struggle on behalf of migrant farmworkers in California, was conveyed through the traditional Indian dance form of Bharatanatyam.

Presented by the Abhinaya Dance Company of San Jose, “Si Se Puede!” brought to light not only the echoes of those long ago struggles, but also placed today’s issues front and center for us to examine. In the current political environment, with the subject of Immigration – illegal or otherwise – taking centerstage;  spotlighting Chavez’s struggles and successes seemed especially appropriate.

Beneath the layers of music and movement, poetry and lyrics, the stage lights lit up an immigrant narrative made up of two separate cultures.  And weaving through it all were the universal tenets of human rights, freedom and social justice.

Abhinaya Dance Company:

Abhinaya School of Dance, founded in 1980, is well known for originality in creative exploration. The recipient of several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, state and city agencies, the dance company has deservedly earned a leading name for itself in the SF Bay area. Helmed by an accomplished dancer, teacher and choreographer Mythili Kumar, the company has until date staged over 50 original productions. Offering classes in San Jose and Monte Sereno, the school has 130 students who have graduated with their solo debut (arangetram) performances.

Abhinaya has staged socially relevant productions in years past. “Gandhi the Mahatma in 1995 was the first of such projects that we staged. Our 2018 production ‘Stories of Justice’ featured the legacy of Martin Luther King. Jr – which included a 6 minute piece on Cesar Chavez,” says Artistic director Mythili Kumar. Her research revealed the fact that Chavez was greatly influenced by Gandhi’s successful non-violent resistance which helped India gain independence from British rule in 1947.

She felt the time was ripe for delving deeper into Chavez’s life given the recent upheaval in the lives of immigrant workers all over America, Her goal is to educate and inspire the diverse Bay Area community about Cesar Chavez’s pioneering work, while also highlighting ongoing struggles that continue to be part of the lives of those who strive so hard to provide us with the very lifestyle that is denied them. 

Cesar Chavez’s quote from the 1960s is relevant even today – “It is ironic that those who till the soil, cultivate and harvest the fruits, vegetables and other foods that fill your tables with abundance have nothing left for themselves!”

Si Se Puede! – Yes, You Can!

Abhinaya Dance Company’s first production in 2019, titled “Si, Se Puede” – which translates to mean “Yes, You Can!” – pays homage to the slogan made famous by the farmworkers under the leadership of Cesar Chavez in 1962.

The program opened with dancers outfitted in traditional Bharatanatyam attire, dancing to a beautiful rendition of verses from the Bhagavad Gita. Stories of the demon king Kumbhakarna, Ravana and King Midas highlighted the central idea of greed as being the downfall of the human condition. Lord Krishna’s twin messages of Universal Love – “Vishwaprema”, and the victory of Truth – “Satyameva Jayate,” set the tone for the story of the man, the visionary, and the leader – Cesar Chavez.

Cesar’s humble beginnings working the fields with his family showed him the harsher truths of life. He was forced to bear witness to abject poverty, hunger, mistreatment, ill health and poor living conditions while working as a migrant farm worker. Abhinaya’s dancers deftly led us through scene after scene showing families of itinerant farm laborers struggling under sweltering temperatures, facing immense hardship, leaving children with no opportunity to enjoy their childhoods.

The soulful voice of Bay Area’s notable Carnatic music vocalists, Asha Ramesh, was ably supported by respected instrumentalists – Ravi Gutala (bols & tabla), Amit Ranganathan (mridangam & kanjira), Lakshmi Balasubramanya (violin), Ashwin Krishnakumar (flute) and Prasant Radhakrishnan (saxophone). Lending counterpoint were Ignacio Alvarez (guitar & vocals) and Gil Cruz (guitar) from the Trio Igalva group.  Ignacio’s rendition of ‘De colores’ was especially poignant. Originally a traditional Spanish song sung during happy occasions, De colores’ was adopted by the striking farm workers at their meetings, and it eventually became a symbol of hope for their resistance movement. Mr. Alvarez’s soft, gentle rendition brought to mind a thirst for beauty and kindness that all human beings yearn and strive for.

Malavika Kumar Walia’s crisp nattuvangam added the perfect vigor to the famed UFW (United Farm Workers) march from Delano to Sacramento, bearing the distinctive flag of resistance. Likewise, Ravi Gutala’s sprightly rendition of bols enhanced the scene where the striking workers were brutalized by law enforcers. Rasika Kumar’s narration provided continuity along with a backdrop of slides from that period in history.

The final scene brought home the fact that the struggles of immigrants is not over yet. Mythili Kumar portrayed a Hispanic woman’s story as she lives with the constant fear of deportation. A normal day in her life with her children shadowed by fear, every time there is a knock on the door. Finally, the law comes calling and she is taken away. The twist came at the end of the scene where the woman wakes and realizes it is a nightmare. This is the reality that untold numbers face today.  

Abhinaya’s production shows us that fear lives among us and holds us in its clutches in today’s world, as it did in Cesar Chavez’s day. Will we have the courage to shed ourselves of the manacles of fear?

Will we have the courage to say – Yes We Can? 

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Pavani Kaushik is a visual artist who loves a great book almost as much as planning her next painting. She received a BFA from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. Her new avatar requires creative juggling with the pen and the brush.

Whose English Is It Anyway?

Life is full of surprises of every kind. The pain of being frequently corrected by your young child as you hold normal everyday conversations is hard to overcome. The corrections I am talking about involve simple conversational English. “Papa,” my daughter often says, “this is not how you say this..” 

Granted English is not my first language; it is not even my second, third, or even fourth language. I grew up in the ancient city of Pataliputra – modern day Patna.  Before I was exposed to any English, I learnt Hindi and Bhojpuri in my neighborhood, Magahi from my mom and her side of the family, and Maithili from my dad and his side of the family. Sanskrit was a requirement to receive a high school (10th grade) diploma. I learnt English as a foreign language in India and never used it on a daily basis until I landed one day in a remote campus town surrounded by cornfields called Champaign, Illinois.

Learning English was not a pain-free exercise for me. Understanding the grammar, memorizing all those irregular verb patterns, SVO word order, pronunciation – you get the idea. But I did just fine and got my degrees from accredited American universities. Yet, after living here for almost a quarter century, I have not been able to reconcile the differences between my “Indian” English and “American” English. So, I am still faced with the question — who is right? — me whose English is Indian at best, or the teenager at the checkout counter of the local grocery store who looks at me every once in a while as if I have just landed from Mars? Or the clerk at the Secretary of State’s office whose face oozes with disgust every time I either open my mouth or she has to pronounce my first name?

But before you make up your mind, let us dig a little deeper into the subject. In an era of rapidly growing technology, where the entire world rests on your palm and a veritable sea of knowledge is only a tap away, this old Indian saying वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम (the entire world is truly just a family) is as modern as the technology itself. As we keep expanding our “global village,” with giant leaps in the fields of science and technology, the world keeps getting smaller and smaller. In our “village,” we come in contact with others across the length and breadth of the globe and conduct business with millions of people who are of different colors and races, speak thousands of different languages, and follow a number of different religious and cultural beliefs. Because of this socially, culturally, and linguistically diverse population, the task of communicating effectively has become increasingly challenging. Much time, energy, and resources is devoted to achieving what is referred to as “effective communication.”

But effective communication may not, and in most cases does not, come easy. The root cause of ineffective communication, which can lead to misunderstandings and confusion, is that all human languages are inherently ambiguous. It requires much experience, context, and other background information to clarify the ambiguity in all languages. The problem of communication is doubly compounded in English because of its status as a “world language.” English is spoken all around the world and it serves as the common language in almost all fields. From American sales executives to Indian software programmers, from Peruvian air pilots to African entrepreneurs— everyone needs and uses English in their day-to-day lives.

English has many varieties. It’s native varieties include British, American, Australian to just name a few variants. English has non-native varieties as well, such as Indian, Nigerian, Singapore, and Chinese to name a few others. The number of non-native speakers of English is much higher than native speakers. Considering all these varieties, the problem of clarity in the English language becomes acute. Each of these varieties of English, native or non-native, from all over the world, carry with it not only the language, but also layers of social, cultural, and political values. It is imperative to at least be aware of and try to grasp these differences in order to be a successful communicator in this global village. Differences in accent or choice of words are more obvious to the listener. However, the differences at the level of discourse are subtle and therefore are much more difficult and complex. When, as a child, I first read Cecil Frances Alexander’s poem “All things bright and beautiful,” I could never understand how the summer sun could be described as being “pleasant.” Similarly, when I first told my students here at the University of Illinois that India has several festivals celebrating the rainy (monsoon) season, I got looks that seemed to say –  “You’ve got to be kidding!”

Communication problems are not only confined to the level of miscommunication, but without the appropriate linguistic-cultural awareness, it may even be incommunicable. Additionally, a native speaker of English may feel that his or her linguistic norms have been violated. The real issue, however, is that many native speakers may consider such differences deviant at best and possibly altogether incomprehensible and inferior. However, in many of these non-native varieties of English, it is actually in the deviation that language acquires its contextual appropriateness. So, next time you hear someone say, “I have preponed my India visit by a week” or “We will be shifting to our new house next month,” pause for a moment before you pass your judgment on his or her English!

Afters spending several years in IT, Avatans Kumar now works as a Columnist and PR professional.  Avatans frequently writes on the topics of Indic Knowledge Tradition, Language, Culture, and Current Affairs in several media outlets. Despite being in America for about a quarter century and having earned graduate degrees in Linguistics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where he also taught Hindi) and the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, Avatans frequently gets called out by his daughter for stressing the wrong syllable ), and overgeneralizing the use of the indefinite article ‘the’ (‘Did you finish the homework?) Twitter: @avatans

 

Early Morning Routine Ayurveda Style

Just as a city dweller looks after his city; just as a charioteer maintains his chariot; so too should a wise man be vigilant in the care of his own body.

Thus, Guru Punarvasu Atreya sums up the importance of a healthy daily regimen in Charaka Samhita, a 3,000-year-old treatise on Ayurveda.

Lifestyles have changed considerably in the last three millennia. So a daily regimen recommended in Ayurvedic literature may seem dated now. On the other hand, it may serve as a reminder of what we have lost over time and may want to reclaim to take better care of ourselves. With that in mind, an abridged version of the Ayurvedic morning regimen is presented below.

Waking Up
A healthy person should wake up at Brahma muhurta, or at the crack of dawn. At this early peaceful hour the body and mind are well rested and refreshed. Also, waking up early gives one time to perform the morning rituals and get ready for the day.

Self Checkup
Do a quick checkup of yourself. Examine your face in the mirror. Ask yourself, “Do I feel well rested?” If you have had adequate sleep you would have woken up spontaneously without an alarm feeling refreshed. “Was the last meal well digested?” If not, you need some more sleep.

Evacuating Waste Matter
Now sit at the toilet to pass urine, flatus, and feces. Timely evacuation of waste matter alleviates constipation, abdominal distension, and a feeling of heaviness; and ultimately increases longevity. But remember that each individual has a different constitution and different bowel action. So if the urge to evacuate is not there, don’t sit at the toilet for too long, and don’t try to force it. A healthy and regular diet and lifestyle will help you achieve a regular bowel routine.

Brushing Teeth
Twigs of trees like neem, karanja, and khadira, which are bitter, pungent, and astringent in taste are recommended in ayurveda for brushing teeth. Not only do they cleanse the mouth, they also remove any bad taste or odor, and balance the doshas. In modern times soft toothbrushes are available which are convenient for brushing teeth and gently massaging the gums, so we have stopped using twigs. Use toothpaste or toothpowder made from bitter, pungent, or astringent plants for better oral hygiene.

Cleaning the Tongue
Using a metal tongue cleaner (made of silver, copper, or stainless steel, and without any sharp edge that may cut the tongue) scrape the top surface of the tongue clean. This removes any deposit on the tongue, improves oral hygiene, eliminates bad breath, enhances relish for food, and gives a sense of lightness of body.

Gargling
Two types of gargling are described in ayurveda-gandusha and kavala. Gandusha is filling the mouth fully with a liquid and holding it. In kavala the mouth is filled only partially so that the liquid can be swished around. Do one of these gargles until the eyes start watering and the nose starts running. Phlegm or excess mucus may flow into the mouth. Then spit it out and take a fresh dose. Repeat a few times until the mouth feels light and clean. Gargling like this can be done with warm water daily.

Washing the Face
Splash cool water on your face. This prevents pitta disorders like nose bleeds, discoloration of skin, and boils, and improves vision. Or use lukewarm water to balance kapha and vata.

Drinking Water
Drinking water first thing in the morning has many benefits. It balances all the three doshas-vata, pitta, and kapha; and improves the digestive agni too. Warm water is particularly helpful for the throat, runny nose, cough, bodyache, and constipation; and for flushing the urinary tract.

Oil Massage
Next, apply warm oil on the skin and massage gently along the direction of body hair. Massage the whole body, giving particular attention to the scalp, ears, and feet. This is called abhyanga. You may use sesame oil, or a medicated oil (mahanarayan taila, dhanvantara taila). Done regularly, abhyanga calms vata dosha, slows aging, and removes fatigue. It brings clarity of vision, good sleep and longevity. It nourishes the skin, makes it supple and reduces wrinkles. Abhyanga should not be done if there is indigestion, fever, increased kapha dosha or fat.

Udvartana
Those who have excess of kapha dosha or fat will benefit from a different body rub called udvartana. Take coarse dry powder of triphala, barley, or chickpea. Warm it to slightly more than body temperature. If your skin is dry, you may add some mustard oil or sesame oil. Now, rub the mixture on your skin on the arms, legs, and trunk against the direction of body hair for 15 minutes.

Exercise
Regular exercise is most important to maintain good health. Follow a routine that you enjoy. Walking is one of the best exercises. Yoga asana and pranayama strengthen both body and mind and prepare one for spiritual pursuits. You may choose to play your favorite sport, or do weights, swimming, jogging, martial arts, tai chi, or dance. When you exercise, pay attention to yourself-feel the muscles working, the flexibility of joints, your breath going in and out, the body warming up, and beads of sweat forming on your forehead. You may observe a feeling of exhilaration due to a rush of endorphins as you exert yourself.

Exercise has many benefits. It tones the muscles, builds strength, improves agni, reduces fat, gives a feeling of lightness of body, and enhances one’s ability to undertake difficult tasks. How much should you exercise? Up to half of your endurance, according to ayurveda. Who should not exercise? If you are suffering from a vata or pitta ailment, you should avoid exercise. Don’t exercise for a couple of hours after a meal or if you have indigestion. Children and the elderly should not do heavy exercise.

Shower
After exercising, wait to cool down before taking a shower with warm water. Then rub yourself dry with a towel. This removes dirt, sweat, itching, fatigue, thirst, and any burning sensation. After a shower the digestive agni becomes stronger. A shower also enhances libido, strength, and longevity.

Clothes, Perfume, Ornaments, Gems
Apply naturally fragrant body lotion, or fragrance-free products. Similarly, applying a natural perfume (sandalwood, henna, khas) dispels odors, and promotes self-confidence and libido. Ornaments of precious metals, particularly gold, are auspicious. They may be studded with gems selected to counter the ill effects of planets.

Personal Grooming
Keep your nails clipped, and facial and body hair trimmed.
Now you are ready for your morning meal. Diet is another important topic that we will discuss in detail later.

Try it Yourself
The ayurvedic morning regimen detailed above probably includes practices that you perform already. Yet, some may be unfamiliar to you. Choose one new practice that intrigues you most and try it out. Do it daily for three weeks. If you feel any adverse effect, it may not be suitable for you, and you should stop. Observe any changes in how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. Some changes may be subtle, but you may be surprised by the sense of wellbeing they bring to your life. Make the timeless wisdom of ayurveda work for you.n

Ashok Jethanandani, B.A.M.S., and Silvia Müller, B.A.M.S., were classmates at the Gujarat Ayurved University, Jamnagar. The concepts presented here are based on classical ayurveda texts. Illustrations are original works by Silvia Müller. Dr. Jethanandani practices ayurveda in San Jose, Calif. www.classical-ayurveda.com.

First published in December 2013.

Where Ras Leela Happens Every Night

 

Before you get ready to see Lord Krishna at Brindavan, you have to watch out for the monkeys! They snatch your cell phone and glasses. At every corner, vigilant citizens shout out to visitors to take off their glasses and to hide their phones. What use is a cell phone to these cheeky imps – I wonder; naughtiness fills the air of Brindavan thanks to these monkeys.

It is also the place where Krishna and the gopis still dance every night!

Frozen into dancing forms, the trees of Nidhivan come alive every night. It is believed that as the sun dips beneath the horizon, Krishna enters the Rang Mahal in the Nidhivan gardens, and dresses his favorite gopi, Radharani. The garden closes at 5 p.m. every day for the Lord to make his way to the garden where gopis await him. The trees come alive unfurling their twisted limbs to dance with him as his gopis. Not even the monkeys dare enter Nidhivan after dark where this nightly divine dance occurs.

After the Raas Leela dance, the duo Radha and Krishna rest on the sandalwood bed in the Rang Mahal. It is found unmade every morning, the sheets askance. The water in the silver jar placed by the bedside is gone as is the pan (betel leaf with areca nut) and the neem datun (herbal tooth-brush). The tour guide narrates this as he sings his way down the path of the garden watched keenly by the monkeys. Red color streaks some of the trees. Holi, the festival of colors, is still more than a month away and already the gods are sprinkling fun upon the city. The guide asks us to twirl, clap our hands and laugh in happiness. It is the place to dance!

In Nidhivan, Krishna and Radha had once appeared before Swami Harisen, guru of Tansen, Emperor Akbar’s court singer.  Swami Harisen was singing when Krishna and Radha appeared before him and became one form, it is believed. The resulting statue of Krishna bent in a sensual “S” shape, curving at the waist and neck, was named Banke Bihari.

We head to Banke Bihari temple where this statue is now established. As we peer at the statue of the Lord, every few minutes the priest draws a curtain breaking our gaze. Staring continuously at the beauty of the dark idol of Bankey Bihari Ji is not recommended. The curtain breaks the spell that Bihariji’s beauty casts on the devotee. It ensures that the devotees cannot look at the Lord for a long time at a stretch and be overpowered by divine love.

The bells toll for the evening worship. Unlike other temples where the loud bells of the morning service or mangal aarti, wake up the lord sometimes as early as 4 am, in the temple of Bankey Bihari he sleeps in late. Shayan Sewa, the evening service aarti prepares him for the night.

We had entered the temple just as the evening service or aarti was starting. The beauty of the temple, with a central courtyard and Rajasthani palace design overwhelms us. The priest distributes sweet, milky pedas and draws a streak of red on our foreheads.

A small commotion ensues as we exit onto the street. I had forgotten to take off my glasses as I fiddled with taking a picture. Before I knew it a monkey had swiped them off my face. All the boys in the neighboring lanes started shouting at the same time. One chased the monkey and the other ran to me. “He took your glasses! Two hundred rupees and we can get you your glasses back,” they shouted urgently as I groped blindly. “Yes. Yes!” I affirmed, and quickly struck a deal. Just as I was thinking about what the Brindavan monkeys wanted with my Warby Parkers – voila! – the boys threw a fruity drink at him. He caught the drink and dropped the glasses. Rs. 40 for the fruity drink, Rs. 160 for the quick thinking boys and Warby Parkers for me, a bargain deal. I heaved a sigh of relief as I stuffed them into my pocket. It was time for a snack.

We headed to the shop of Titu Cheele wala, steps down from the Banke Bihari temple. Titu folded yummy cottage cheese filling into mouth-watering crispy savory chickpea-flour pancake and spooned some mint chutney over it. “How much do you reckon I could sell the cheela for in the US?” asked Titu. When I demurred, he confessed that he was in talks with a franchisee in London who had said the pancake would easily sell for 8 to 10 pounds a pop. I nodded in assent, and left the business planner behind to head back to the hotel. Lord Krishna stepped into Nidhivan with other things in mind.

The ISKCON temple I learnt wasn’t that indulgent about the nighttime activities of the Lord. They still woke him up at 4 a.m. with the morning service or mangal arti. Devotees were swaying to the chants of Hare Krishna when we entered the temple at 4 a.m. A line of dhoti-clad young boys sang gustily to the lord. The gentleness of the linen clad congregation harmonized with the wisps of fragrant smoke that filled the soft dawn light. Magic filled the air. Sounds of conch shells trumpeted through the air. The doors opened and the Lord made His appearance. A bright light illuminated his being. The girls gathered around the tulsi plant to offer their prayers and the men formed a circle in the courtyard. A sweet-smelling flower passed through the congregation. We inhaled its fragrance. The soft light of the lamp washed us with its promise of enlightenment. Soon it was time to leave for the Radha Valabh temple that woke the Lord at 7a.m.

The Radha Valabh temple is special as the devotees  present marijuana or hashish to the Lord. The story goes that a very diligent priest who served the Lord had one failing – he loved to smoke marijuana. When the temple authorities threw him out of his job, the Lord appeared in the dreams of the other priests looking very sad. On enquiry, “I’m not getting any hashish these days,” said the Lord.  On hearing this, the temple authorities realized the mistake they had made and instantly reinstated the priest.

We entered the Radha Valabh temple. A number of women were singing softly as they sat in the little marble square in front of the garba griya or the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. The singing, starting gentle, picked up rhythm and as the time approached to open the doors to the deity, a frenzy of singing erupted.  Loud shouts and gusty hailing ushered the Lord into a new day. Thrusting hands were warned that the prashad would only be given to those who waited patiently for the blessing. We emerged from the temple clutching a packet of sweet powder, our reward for good behavior.

A trip to Brindavan is incomplete without a visit to Prem Mandir, the latest addition to the temple tour. Inaugurated in February 2012, the 54-acre site on the outskirts of Brindavan is dedicated to Lord Radha Krishna and Sita Ram. It took about $23 million, 30,000 tons of Italian marble, and 1000 artists toiled for about 12 years to build the complex. Tableaus that recreate scenes from Krishna’s life surround the marble temple. As evening approaches, the white marble façade is lit up. Awash in many shades of changing lights, the temple is a beautiful sight. Spiritual master Kripalu Maharaj conceived and established the temple. Shimmering green, red, and purple lights signal the end of our day.

It is time to retire for the night. Outside the Prem Mandir, on the wall above the fruit vendor, sits a monkey clutching a green woolen cap. A grey haired man below tosses him an orange. The exchange is completed as we head to our hotel.

It is now time to leave the city to Krishna and his gopis.

How to get to Brindavan

By Road : Brindavan is situated on Delhi-Agra NH-2. Another road that leads there is the new Yamuna Expressway. Delhi is about 200 Km away. It can take about 4 hours to traverse this distance.

By Train : The major railway station nearby is Mathura on the Delhi-Chennai and Delhi-Mumbai main line. Several express and passenger trains connect Mathura from other major cities of India like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Calcutta, Gwalior, Dehradun, Indore, and Agra. A rail bus runs between Brindavan and Mathura station 5 times a day. Vrindavan or Brindavan itself is a railway station.

By Air: The nearest airport Agra is 67 km away. The nearest international airport is Delhi.

Ritu Marwah’s travel tales reflect her deep interest in history. Her well-researched articles are informative while making for interesting reading. 

 

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