Sad end to a long chapter

Shiv Sethi

Books are the chief defence of a society. Any generation that does not buy books cannot nurture its intellectual capacities. These days, youngsters do not mind spending a lot of money in ritzy showrooms and restaurants, but they become miserly when it comes to spending a small amount on a book. Therefore, most bookshops are on their last legs. One such bookstore in Ferozepur, once the darling of the community of readers, is now on the brink of closure. The condition of this desolate bookstore is like a barren garden of leafless and lifeless trees.

The present era of e-books and e-newspapers has played havoc, taking away the age-old glory of this bookshop. Observing the fate of many such old bookshops, a lover of books can painfully conclude that our society is going to witness a paperless era. The death of paperback books and broadsheet newspapers seems in the offing. The spectre of the crumbly building of the beloved book depot turns me nostalgic. Passing in front of it, I am instantly transported to my childhood days when I had forged a rapport with this ever-flowing cascade of knowledge. Visiting the bookstore every weekend was one of the passionate practices I devoutly stuck to for years. During my frequent visits to the place, I had also developed a special bond with its old, bespectacled owner, who would always welcome book lovers with a broad smile.

Many co-buyers I would bump into were also no more just formal acquaintances. A camaraderie would soon develop with them. Unlike the modern-day friends on various social media forums, they were easily accessible for friendly gossip anytime. Adjoining the bookstore was a makeshift teashop, where buyers would often assemble and have healthy discussions over their recently read and newly bought books. The thought-stirring discussions, coupled with cups of hot tea, would stimulate creative thinking.

The book depot has a rich historic past, tracing its origin back to the British era. In its prime, the store had a vast collection ranging from immortal classics to modern-day books. A large swarm of buyers would arrive every day to get their hands on their favourite reading stuff. But the advent of technology ruined the place of its past glory.

A few days ago, I got emotional while watching a short silent film, Kitab. The film mourns the declining habit of reading among the youth and takes a dig on their digital reading preferences. Perhaps it is the last century of hard-bound books and broadsheet newspapers.

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The last of Janus generation

AK Maria

We are a limited edition, the first and the last, extremely unique and will be extinct within two-three decades. We are the ones born within 10-15 years of Independence. We opened our eyes in a free India, filled with euphoria of newly acquired freedom, along with the disruption and agony of Partition.

We grew up steeped in patriotic fervour, truth and probity in public life. We were inspired by freedom fighters and our leaders, their turmoil, trials, tribulations and honesty.

We are the ones who could easily drink water from any well, handpump, railway station tap. We grew up without any pollution, adulterated foods, artificially ripened/coloured vegetables and fruits. We are the last to use dhela, taka, anna; chhatank, seer, mound. We grew up with invaluable postcards, inland letters, telegrams; saw their demise, and are now equally adept at emails and social media messaging.

We walked to school, studied in hot and humid classrooms, sitting on the floor; and are now happy with our grandchildren going in AC buses to AC classrooms. We are the last ones who wrote on wooden takhtis, slates, and later with nib-pens; and are now equally at home with the stylus.

We grew up in large joint families, had multitude of siblings; and are now at ease with our progeny having two kids or one child. We, who could never raise our voice against our parents, especially fathers, are uncomfortable at the behaviour of present-day kids.

We grew up with the All India Radio, fascinated by B&W television sets; were elated with colour TV. We used to rue only a single channel and now don’t know what to do with so many channels and high-tech TVs. We saw the rise and fall of EPs, LPs, 2-in-1s and VCRs. We grew up in the times when getting a telephone connection was a Herculean task and possessing one a status symbol. We are now impressed with a billion Indians possessing mobile phones.

We spent our childhood and youth longing for imported goods; even soaps and socks; and are now enjoying the luxury of everything available locally. We contributed our bit fully when the country fought three major wars, but now feel disturbed by the disrespect shown to guardians of our freedom. We have seen an impoverished, starving India of the sixties, having a weekly one-meal fast by the whole nation; advent of the Green Revolution and are now appalled at the enormous wastage of foodgrains due to improper storage.

We have experienced both sides. We have had a ring-side view of a poor, semi-clad, barefoot, mostly illiterate country’s tremendous scientific and technological progress, and its riches. But are also seeing the severe degradation of social and moral values.

We are the Janus generation.

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When a wedding meant more

Col Mahesh Chadha (retd)

WHEN I attend weddings these days, I am wonder struck! Gone are the days when the ceremony was considered a solemn occasion. All rituals were performed with sobriety and invocation of the Almighty. The function used to be held at the residences — covered with shamianas and bedecked with flowers and lights — of both the groom and the bride. Where the houses were small, a community ground would become the venue. The sound of the brass band indicated the arrival of the baraat, alerting the ladki-wallahs to gather at the gate. Vedic mantras or shabads were recited, followed by milani, when close relatives of each party would embrace one another. Someone from the groom’s side would recite sehra in honour of the groom and his family, and someone from the bride’s side would recite shiksha, highlighting the aspects of her upbringing with love and care, her delicate nature, and above all, her sacrifice to raise the family of her would-be husband.

As the baraatis were ushered in, it was incumbent upon the bride’s family to look after each and every one. After a round of cold drinks or a hot beverage, dinner or lunch used to be personally served to the baraatis by the ladki-wallahs, who dare not eat along with them. Generally, it used to be vegetarian fare, and serving hard drinks was a taboo, though some would stealthily savour it at their own expense and invite the ire of the elders!

The most important part, lanvan phere, was invariably performed at the home from where the bride would depart for the groom’s home.

Today, it is different. Weddings are held at a resort, a hotel or a picnic spot, as far away as another town. There is a long queue of cars, occupying most of the road space and creating a jam for commuters. It takes forever to reach the venue, and if late, parking becomes a problem. However, the rich opt for valet parking. Reception is, of course, as usual, but not the good old recitation of sehra and shiksha. In any case, one can’t hear anything in the deafening noise of the DJ and what not. Photographers take centre stage and one does not get to see the faces. There is a surfeit of drinks and snacks, from as early as the arrival of the first person, full of variety. It makes one rue at the quantity that is wasted — it can feed more than an equal number.

There is no limit as far as the time is concerned, despite orders of the administration. When all guests depart, it is time for the families of the groom and the bride to sit together and enjoy the feast. The lanvan phere, too, take place there itself, where a platform is erected. Nobody visits the bride’s place. She is brought in a flower-decked car to the groom’s house to start a life together.

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So kids may be able caregivers…

Neela Sood

I had a chance to visit a couple who had put three posters on the wall of the drawing room of their house. The first poster, relatively small in size, showed their son as a child; the second poster, bigger than the first one, had an imaginary photograph of their son as a middle-aged man with a loving wife and children around him, all in a joyous mood; and in the last frame, which was the biggest in size, again, an imaginary photograph of him as a bed-ridden old man in a dingy room, with nobody to take care of him.

A bit perplexed, I asked the host what it meant. ‘This is a human’s life cycle. My son should always keep his old age in mind,’ said the man. The next day, when I got up, I was surprised to see his 10-year-old son cleaning the toilet. ‘Yes, it is the first job he is asked to do without fail in the morning before going to school. If he remembers these things and does not look at cleaning human excreta with aversion, he will be able to take care of old and incapacitated persons. It may be me or his mother or anybody else,’his father said, as a matter of fact.

He went on to add: ‘Parents should not only fuel ambitions in their children, but also make them aware of their responsibilities as a member of the family and also society when they grow up.’

I could see enough substance in what he said, considering that in the coming years, we won’t get people who would provide personal care to the elderly, even if paid well. And if at all they do it, it would be too impersonal and cold to provide any degree of satisfaction to the needy. In the end, only the kin will have to take care of their elderly. Further, it is very important to acquaint students with the human life span and the ageing process, with the main focus on old age, in the school curriculum.

Thanks to the present-day excessive commercialism, when children have holidays, we are served with pamphlets inviting parents to send them for dance and painting workshops and other such vocational ‘fun’ classes. I think this is the time when children should be made to spend time with the elderly persons in their family, especially in meeting their basic needs.

A Bangladeshi folktale has a lesson for all: A disabled grandfather was being carried by his son in a basket, to be abandoned in a forest. On seeing this, the grandson called out, ‘Father, please be sure to bring back the basket. I will need it when you grow old.’

Let us sensitise our children.

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Retreat of the humane side

Sanjeev Trikha

Nationalism is not a showpiece to be worn on the sleeve. It is ingrained, to be felt, experienced and lived. No one can resist goose bumps when the National Flag is hoisted amid the singing of the Anthem on various national and international platforms.

A few days back, on my visit to Amritsar, I grabbed the opportunity to fulfil my desire of watching the retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah. With a certain imagination and excitement, I headed towards the post. Flags of both countries were visible from the road, atop structures on either side. The high-flying flags fill one with a distinct feeling of euphoria, but at the same time, indicate the limits of man-made boundaries and compulsions.

The heart rejoices at the sight of birds flying freely across the borders, the whiff of air flowing without caring for the border lines soothes the body and cajoles the heart and soul, too. Both countries share the air, the ambience, the birds, the ecology of trees on either side. Nature is generous, but we humans have rigidly compartmentalised our movements, painfully shackling ourselves in geographical and psychological boundaries.

Sitting in my seat at the extreme end, a couple of steps away from the border gates, I found myself more curious about the happenings on the other side: the people, their attire, their mannerisms… all appeared like ours. The retreat ceremony began with a resounding start, as sound systems on both sides were given a green light to roar out their counterparts. Both sides, suitably cued by men with baton, got euphoric as the adrenaline in the form of slogans was pumped into their veins. Contrary to my perceptions, the ceremony was sans any cultural presentation.

The parading security personnel appeared more concerned about their challenging gestures of flexing muscles and moustache, generating a fair amount of excitement among people. But it did nothing for my cerebral churning. Amid the fanfare, chaotic and loud music, and chanting of slogans, I sat there lost in thoughts. My perceived aspirations and imagination lay shattered. The only part that fascinated me was when both flags were lowered with due honour. As the ceremony ended and people from both sides started leaving, I waved to people on the other side, which was reciprocated with the same warmth. Suddenly, a strong voice intercepted my engagement. I was told by a security man not to resort to such signals. The humanist sentiment in me started arguing with the nationalistic sentiment.

Retreating from the security zone, I drove freely back to the city. The giant flags driven by the unprejudiced winds, fluttering in the same direction — sometimes towards the Indian side and other times leaning towards Pakistan — appeared to be mocking me. I reached my hotel and got busy with routine activities, leaving the human approach to the mercy of the political bosses on both sides, which needs a suitable and timely retreat.

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Poor me, don’t pour that drink…

Lakhinder Jit Singh Vohra

AAP MP Bhagwant Mann put alcohol right, left, front and centre in our drawing rooms, chilled with guilt and drowned with apologies with a hangover of repentance. Better late than never. Alcoholism is a progressive disease of the mind, an allergy of the body, and a spiritual malady.

The first step in overcoming an alcohol addiction is admitting being powerless and that life has become unmanageable.

I am a recovered alcoholic. My date of sobriety, as it is called in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), is the last time I took a drink — November 24, 2013. I distinctly remember the time and place where I was, when I consciously put the glass down saying enough is enough. My body simply could not take the two or three double Patiala pegs of Double Black Johnnie Walker on the rocks every night. I am sure that if I had not stopped, like many others we hear or know, I would have been dead by now.

A big part of alcoholism, which we often lose sight of, is the people in your life, who aid and abet — the enablers. It could be a coterie of so-called well-wishers, the freely flowing booze at political fundraisers, weddings, bootleg brands behind closed doors, one-for-the-road Army brats. It could also be family members who turn a blind eye and never acknowledge a drinking problem, or show tough love so the alcoholic gets help.

Mann, in a brave act, had showed up with his mother and announced that he was giving up. But for many alcoholics, the cause of drinking is deep-rooted in family and early childhood trauma, lack of an emotional connection with parents or siblings, or family pressures that justify an escape to solitude and drinking.

However, faith in the Almighty; seeking professional help, such as a mental health professional; staying away from booze-filled occasions; clearing out the liquor cabinet… is more tough than half-admitting at a political rally that you are promising to quit, even though you claim you do not have a drinking problem.

In India, you have to be half-apologetic and give many explanations to near and dear ones why you stopped drinking or how bad the drinking problem had gotten! You are made to feel guilty even for quitting! What most people do not realise is that an alcoholic has to say no to the first drink because like most other normal drinkers, once he takes the first drink, he is powerless to say ‘no’. For him, one is too many and one thousand is never enough.

Hope Mann was not trying to draw sympathy in the election season.

Like they say in recovery — poor me, pour me a drink.

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Sound of fusion

Neha Kirpal

Ambi Subramaniam

Carnatic music is usually not associated with a violin, but that’s exactly the combination 27-year old Indian-American violinist, pianist and singer Ambi Subramaniam has been pursuing ever since he was a child. He will be performing at the 12th edition of the World Sacred Spirit Festival presented by the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur from February 22 to 24.

Even though his work has always been deeply rooted in Indian classical music, Ambi has had the opportunity to experiment with different styles such as western, gypsy and Irish music. A result of his collaboration is the band SubraMania that he went on to form in 2013 along with his sister, Bindu.

In the past, SubraMania has released singles in collaboration with Indi-pop legend Lesle Lewis, world-renowned flautist Jorge Pardo, Corky Seigel, Hubert Laws, Oystein Baadsvik and more.

The brother-sister duo recently composed a song called Stargazer. They were inspired to create it during the #MeToo movement. Describing it as an ode to resilience, Ambi plays cello in the song for the first time. “Stargazer speaks of the quiet grit that we have seen, despite the trauma. We wanted to send survivors the message that they are not alone, no matter what they’re going through,” he adds. Another song that they just released, Superheroes Without Capes, along with Mahesh Raghavan, tells kids to be superheroes through its simple lyrics: “Don’t use plastic, don’t waste food, compost, there’s so much more that you can do.”

Along with Bindu, Ambi has also been running the Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts since 2011. The music academy was set up by their parents in 2007 with a vision to create a hub for global music in India.

The duo has created a teaching method that ensures children are entertained and engaged as they undergo rigorous musical training. “We make music fun for children as young as three years old with baby rooms, baby Dikshitar and Tyagaraja characters in all textbooks, and place electronic shruti boxes inside soft toys,” he says.

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