Daphne myth & laurel leaves

Ratna Raman


Publius Ovidius Naso (43 BCE -17/18CE) or Ovid, the canonical Roman poet, is popularly known for his ‘magnum opus’ (Latin, best work) Metamorphoses (Latin, transformations). A long narrative poem using genres, such as elegiac, tragic, epic, mock-epic and pastoral, Metamorphoses defies categorisation. It comprises of 15 books and discusses over 250 ‘Hellenistic’ (having direct ancient Greek influence) myths in verse. Metamorphoses begins with the creation of the world and sets itself up as history, engaging with the life and death of Julius Caesar. Ovid ‘adapts’ (refashions) the myths of love, war and violence amidst the gods and humans and records the transformation of animate and inanimate beings in nature.

One of the myths he deals with is the story of Apollo and Daphne. Apollo, the privileged son of the king of Gods, falls in love with a beautiful nymph and pursues her. Echoing the metaphor of the hunt, this popular theme is rendered variously by poets, painters and sculptors from the time of the Renaissance.

Daphne flees, not wanting Apollo’s attentions, but is unable to shake him off. Unable to counter an advancing Apollo, Daphne appeals to Gaea, mother earth, for protection. She is turned miraculously into a laurel tree just as Apollo is about to lay his hands upon her. Unfazed, Apollo breaks off a bough from the tree and wears it upon his person. Subsequently, the tree gains significance in Greek and Roman culture as a tree sacred to Apollo. It is appropriated as a symbol of honour and its leaves, made into wreaths, are bestowed upon poets, warriors, athletes and political leaders.

Long after the leaves of the bay laurel were replaced with medals, trophies or citations, the expression ‘laurel’ continued to be used in the English language. The axiom ‘resting upon one’s laurels’ harks back to ‘classical antiquity’ (ancient Greco-Roman period). The axiom warns against relying on past achievements instead of working hard to maintain one’s position or rank. Similarly, the expression that schoolboys and girls make their institutions proud by ‘bringing home laurels’ refers to distinctions and awards won in academics etc.

The laurel tree, also known as the bay tree, is native to the Mediterranean region and has large fragrant leaves that contribute cooking flavours in Greek and Mediterranean cooking. The bay leaves of the European laurel are very different from the Indian bay leaf or tej patta.

Apparently, the Indian bay leaf has three spines down the middle unlike the Mediterranean bay laurel which has a single spine. The matter is also clinched by words prevalent in local cultures to describe the bay leaf. Tej patta is also known as the tamal patra in Sanskrit. Greek and Roman traders referred to it as the malabathron and malabathrum, respectively. The bay laurel leaves, referred to as dafni in Greek, forever recall Daphne’s metamorphosis into an aromatic tree, and highlight the etymological differences between Indian and Mediterranean bay leaves.

The Daphne myth speaks of the obliteration of women’s identities and how it is imperative for women to take on new identities in order to resist being ‘subsumed’ (absorbed) in their entirety in patriarchal societies.

Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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Narad, Narain & babus

KR Bharti

A CULTURAL meet of IAS officers of Himachal cadre took place in Shimla after a hiatus of five years. Songs, qawwalis, natees and skits marked the occasion. A skit, though enacted in a lighter vein, had serious overtones.

The first scene was set in the Vaikunth (heaven) when Narad, with his khartal, appeared from nowhere, chanting Narain-Narain. ‘What brings you here today, Devrishi Narad?’ enquired Narain.

‘I have recently been to Himachal, a heaven on the earth, my Lord.’

‘That’s excellent. What news do you carry from there, Narad?’

‘Himachal is not as cool as it was, Narain, it is a hotbed of politics. IAS officers, the little Napoleans of yesteryear, are reduced to puppets by their political masters.’

‘But they were cast in steel frame. Even the Iron Man of India, Sardar Patel, accepted this fact.’

‘With the passage of time, it has degenerated into a plastic frame, my Lord.’ ‘But who is responsible for this unhappy pass?’ ‘Partly the political bosses and partly themselves, Narain.’ ‘Well, I would like to see things for myself, Narad.’

Narain was escorted incognito to Himachal, where he encountered IAS probationers who eked out a life of destitution and drudgery, running from one officer to the other for training. Houseless and vehicle-less, they searched for cheap eating corners and guesthouses.

‘Miserable!’ remarked Narain. ‘The condition of regular officers is even worse,’ interjected Narad.

Narain was then led to IAS officers. He discovered that they were shuffled like cards every now and then in defiance of the transfer policy. As soon as there was a change of guard in the state, the first axe fell on the IAS and its poor cousin, the HAS. A bias prevailed over their posting. Some enjoyed plum posts while some languished in non-descript posts.

An IAS wife who was transferred thrice in a year cursed her IAS husband for getting her cadre changed to Himachal. The husband endeavoured to justify it, saying Himachal had better environ.

‘That’s really a sorry state of affairs.’ Narad then took Narain for a round of schools and colleges. He was pleased to see these in every nook and cranny of the state, but was shocked to see the meagre strength of students. ‘If colleges are opened at this pace, they may outnumber schools some day,’ he remarked.

Narain then took a round of revenue offices and was flabbergasted at the mushrooming growth of tehsils and subdivisions. ‘Who frames these flawed policies, Narad? Do the finances of the state allow this extravaganza?’ ‘It is the secretariat, where policies are made by ministers, duly assisted by babus. The concurrence of the finance department is necessary, but who cares!’

Narain hurried to the secretariat. Some officers were overburdened while some were idle. Additional chief secretaries outnumbered secretaries.

Upset, Narain beckoned Narad to hasten back to Vaikunth, lest he was also victimised.

Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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In The Forest

Margaret O’Driscoll


Unspoilt, unique, a soulful place
ancient oaks all around
scattered acorns sprouting shoots
new life emerging from the ground

I touch the parchment bark of birch
it’s leaves shimmering in the breeze
my spirit soars in the forest glade
resurrected there among the trees

It takes me back to another time
the harmony of it all
I stand transfixed in the forest deep
when I hear a cuckoo call

Periwinkles blue as the sky above
look up from the forest floor
entwined with white wood anemones
in my mind’s eye for evermore

Visit this Link for Hindi Translation of two of Margaret O’Driscoll’s Poems

Margaret O’Driscoll on Facebook

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Padamjit Singh: A Living Legend at P.S.E.B.


The Tribune, Chandigarh, Nov. 25, 2003

Among nearly one lakh employees of the Punjab State Electricity Board (P.S.E.B.), he has become a living legend in his own right. All love him and praise his extraordinary simplicity, honesty, and competence. The man is Mr. Padamjit Singh, who will bid adieu to the Board in a few days from now after serving it with distinction for about 35 years. He is retiring on November 30 as Chief Engineer (Systems Operation). It was with Mr. Padamjit Singh’s efforts that the P.S.E.B. saved Rs. 85 crore this year during the paddy season. He planned the purchase of power from the national grid and other sources in such a manner that it resulted in huge savings. He purchased maximum power during off-peak hours when it was available at the cheapest rates.

His trademark is his decades-old two-wheeler – the bicycle. Though as a chief engineer he is entitled to an official car, he never avails the facility. He moves about on the bicycle from one office to the other to attend to official business. However, whenever he has to go far from his headquarters at Patiala, he takes a car from the official pool. ‘In the present era of bloated egos and official status-flaunting, not to use the official car is a big sacrifice. I often see officers even with smaller status cribbing in case they are not provided with a fancy pen stand, glass, and table lamp on their official desk,’ says a superintendent of the P.S.E.B.

No one has ever raised an accusing finger at Mr. Padamjit Singh. Most of the engineers join government service to be rich overnight, but Mr. Padamjit Singh has been helping the needy from his own pocket. When corruption is all-pervading, Mr. Padamjit Singh has become a model for several engineers for his uprightness and honesty. He was honoured this year with the prestigious Baba Farid Award by the Baba Farid Society for his spotless service record. He has a habit of reaching his office well before official hours.

Mr. Padamjit Singh completed his Senior Cambridge [high school] from the famed Doon School where the late Rajiv Gandhi and others like Capt. Amarinder Singh were seniors to him. He earned a B.Tech. in electrical engineering from I.I.T., New Delhi and has made enormous contribution to the power engineering profession. Wherever he served, he left his mark with his intelligent and straightforward way of working. He has led power engineers at national, regional, and state levels in various capacities such as president and general-secretary of engineer associations. He once headed the All-Indian Power Engineers Federation besides being president of the P.S.E.B. Engineers Association.

He belongs to an illustrious family. His father was a doctor in the army and saw action in the Second World War in the Middle East. His mother, Dr. Davinder Kaur, earned a Ph.D. in psychology from London University in 1928. His elder brother, Sqd. Ldr. Pritam Singh, died in an air crash in 1967. Another brother is settled in the U.S.A. His sister, Jasjit Kaur, has written biographies, including that of Gen. P.S. Bhagat. About a year ago, Mr. Padamjit Singh was shifted from the office of Systems Operation as he had refused to endorse the contract to buy power through private brokers at unreasonable rates. But after a few months, his transfer was cancelled.

Mr. Padamjit Singh has plans to settle in Delhi to work at the national level with top retired power experts such as Mr. Ashok Rao. ‘It will be a big loss to Punjab’s power sector. It will be good if Punjab utilizes his service for a better cause,’ say his engineer colleagues.

Source Link: http://www.sikhtimes.com

The Write-up originally appeared in The Tribune: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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In new Valley, hope for love

Arun Joshi

THIS is our Kashmir,” exclaimed Hayat, the cab driver, as he adjusted himself on a chair at a restaurant on the Khannabal-Pahalgam road for a better view of the romantic song from the 1968 hit, Mere Humdum, Mere Dost, playing on the television screen. ‘This is Pahalgam, Hayat,’ he said, as if trying to assure himself that he was right in identifying the place.

A scroll was being run on the screen along the song — ‘For someone special — Danish…’ The ‘special’ was not to be guessed. It must have been a message from someone in love to his beloved as the lyrics… Chalo sajna jahan tak ghata chale… made it clear.

This was a revelation of sorts. Kashmir of the past, where nearly all Bollywood romantic movies were filmed, was no more there. A deepening sense of nostalgia has gripped the Valley, as Kashmiris seek to identify themselves with the Kashmir of the good old days. It is particularly true of the generation of 36-year-old Hayat Mubeen Shah. This generation has seen only violence.

Danish was seeking to profess his love through Bollywood songs. I imagine him to be in his late teens. The old lyrics resonate with their heartbeats.

At the restaurant, teenaged girls and boys kept coming, sitting for a while, eating something and then leaving. But their conversation was all in whispers. Two young waiters, Omar Bhat from Aishmuqam — a hilly and holy township near Pahalgam — and Rameez Malik from Hapat Nag, were busy catering to the guests.

This was a change, which conflict-obsessed journalists take no notice of. Anantnag is a highly conservative town. Love messages, even if discreet, were unthinkable a few years ago. There were times when the girls would hum Aaj ki mulaqat bas itni… within the four walls of their homes, where it was not audible even to family members. Any such activity would have been treated as a socio-cultural blasphemy.

Much has changed since.

The college girls in Anantnag, coming out in hordes with their heads neatly covered with scarves, were walking home…. marching on. There was not even a single boy following them. They were headed home fearlessly. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s words — ‘Girls are the safest in Kashmir’ — came like an instant law of association.

This is the cultural beauty of Kashmir, where social values are rated high — whether the times be peaceful or turbulent. It is a forward march to a new Kashmir, with utmost caution, but a free vision for a bright Valley.

Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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And so it goes…

Hennaav Kaur Dhillon

MISANTHROPISTS dub medicine a dull and boring profession. My girlfriends from school tell me, “You deal with sick patient’s day in and day out. Isn’t it miserable?” Well, there might be some truth in that but I still disagree. We have our lighter moments to break free from all the monotony and depressing truths. More often than not, a colourful patient every now and then turns up to make our day!

I am continually amazed by the number of patients who become pale, sweaty and anxious when I approach them with a needle. In my work as a medical officer at a dispensary, I once had a military man who showed up for a blood test. The Army man was making more fuss than I’d expect in a children’s ward and had to be comforted — and restrained — by the nurse. Trying to distract him, she asked him about his role in the Army. Somewhat blushingly, he replied, “Bomb disposal!” That was that.

Then there are hypochondriacs —annoying to the core but adding humour to our lives! I once had a hypochondriac visit me with his x-ray report. On finding the report to be normal I told him, “I don’t know why, but I cannot see any evidence of disease.” The hypochondriac, who is always willing to help with his own treatment, had the audacity to tell me, “Have you thought of getting your eyes tested?” All I could do was crease my lips into a gentle smile and scribble on his OPD card, “Wishing you a speedy recovery from your imaginary illness!”

Then there are over-smart patients who indulge in self-diagnosis by reading up medical literature available online, thanks to WebMD and Mayo Clinic Diagnosis. A hyperactive mother of two came visiting me to the dispensary. On examining her son, I found symptoms of acute tonsillitis and prescribed an antibiotic course for a week. She vehemently refused to put her son on antibiotic and lectured me on the side-effects. She glorified alternative schools of medicine and explained to me the theory of how Chinese food is bad during winter. She went on and on before I asked her to leave. The same evening, I found her at a posh Chinese restaurant with her sons, gorging on noodles and manchurian. She was embarrassed to death!

I recently attended a three-day conference at Varanasi. In his concluding speech the convener, a senior medico, concluded his valedictory address with the following words, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for listening to my talk. In fact, I would like to thank you from the full length of my vocal chords because I don’t like making anatomical mistakes by referring to the bottom of my heart which, as you know, is not the seat of thought, and cannot produce speech!”

Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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Bend, but not to break

Col PS Sangha (Retd)

IN principles of flight, the two main forces are ‘lift’ and ‘drag’. You generate more lift by increasing the angle of attack, but the drag also increases. The solution is to find an ideal angle which gives you more lift and less drag. This is achieved during the cruise phase of flight when the aircraft flies straight and level.

‘Bending with the wind’ is a popular phrase in our country. It was used by a Supreme Court judge as advice to a serving Army Chief, implying that he should learn to live with the system. So, what is this bending with the wind? It is similar to the principles of flight in that you must find the angle of attack which provides minimum drag. If you stand up to the wind in a storm, it may knock you down, but if you bend and reduce the surface area presented to the wind, it will blow over you.

In reality, bending with the wind is the norm in our country. The poor are already bent over with poverty and the salaried class has to toe the line of its superiors to survive and progress. In the civil services hardly anyone will stand up to a politician, even if orders are unlawful. It is the standard operating procedure, as they call it. In the corporate sector, all companies run along similar lines. There are, however, many corporate groups that encourage an independent thought process. The major problem of bending, or not, is in the armed forces. Structurally, they are autocratic in nature. The orders of the senior must be obeyed in letter and spirit. While this is a necessity in times of war and counter-insurgency operations, it creates a dilemma at other times. During my 29-odd years in the Army, I came across situations wherein I was asked to do things against my way of thinking. If it was an order given across the unit/formation for implementation, I had to see what the others were doing. Many times, I voiced my concern to my superiors while others kept quiet, which mostly upset the senior officer. When I was commanding a unit, another CO asked me why I was not bending with the wind. He said he followed the principle of ‘Sarpanchan da kehna sir mathey par nala othey da othey’ (I bow my head to the orders of the village elders but the drain will flow as before). So, don’t say no, but don’t do it either. That is, of course, a safe way of bending. I told him that if I did not object to an order, I followed it. Even in the forces, if you don’t bend, you are likely to face rough weather.

Finally, it is a personal choice. You can fool others, but not yourself. For every unethical act, you let yourself and your outfit down. Most of us do it for the lure of career advancement or post-retirement benefits. If you choose not to, you have to be prepared for the rough weather. In the year 2000, I saw the aftermath of the cyclone in Odisha. The palm trees, which faced the storm head-on, had been permanently bent in the direction of the wind along with their branches.

Source Link: http://www.tribuneindia.com

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