I fell down, got up and dusted my knees for the third time, and smiled back at my father. That was precisely when he took the photo. Holding it in my hand after all these years now brings that smile back again. I was trying to learn to ride the bicycle. In fact, I was learning the biggest lesson of my life: Learning to balance and getting back after a fall.
It’s wonderful how photos capture emotions and feelings, freezing them for life.
As I flipped through the album, my fingers lingered along another picture that has made me stop every single time. A little girl, that’s me, is sitting on a chair with a big pink turban on the head. It was my grandfather’s turban and I was posing like a queen. It makes me laugh hard when I see it as a grown up. But did that little girl understand that symbolism? I bet not. There was a powerful lesson that I was taught gradually as a kid. My grandfather was indeed a progressive man and he would often say: “It doesn’t matter what your gender is, what matters is how you honour your turban.”
Years rolled by, and there came my wedding album. I’m smiling through all the pictures. Even during my ‘madhania’ moment. How is it you didn’t cry during your ‘vidaai‘? Some friends and family were pleasantly surprised. I would answer, “Why? Nobody was dead”!
It depends how you look at it. I was embarking on a new phase in life, and starting it with tears wouldn’t be the last thing that I would’ve done. Those moments captured in photos have left a happy impression on my mind and a lesson reassured. Whenever you begin a journey, career or life, begin it with all your heart; let the fate take care of the rest.
Yet, years later when I became a mother and now when my daughter scrolls my phone gallery, full of her pictures, she hugs and cuddles me seeing them. There are pictures of her dancing, posing, celebrating, and playing pranks. I find the whole joy of the world captured in the photos. They too remind me of a lesson, that pure love transcends you to your happy place – to your best version.
Before I close the album, there are many more blank pages to be filled with love, laughter and happiness. As I look ahead, I’m amazed at how these pictures turn a fleeting moment into a memory for a lifetime that not only provides an immediate connect but also serve as pearls of wisdom gathered as life rolls on.
“Earth provides ENOUGH to satisfy every mans need but, NOT every mans greed!”
The warm and majestic green landscapes, the glory of the snow crowned mountains, the pristine maiden rivers and lakes… (wait let’s fast forward)… is a matter of history.
Does that not give you goose bumps?
The clarion bells keep ringing over the degradation of various flora and fauna, and now the scenario is only graver. The very topography of our land has been altered, or rather plundered!
Being an adventure seeker, I have been visiting various places especially across the Himalayas but it is a sad sight now. The beautiful pockets of nature are being replaced by plastic bottles, litter, dams, rapid construction, luxurious hotels and resorts – making these areas dull and grey! The irony of the situation is that the luxury and modernization that we are trying to achieve from such rampant dissection of these ecologically sensitive areas, is absolutely menacing.
There is an increase in the occurrence of natural calamities and higher likelihood of pandemics. Man has been reckless in the past decade – ignoring guidelines, exploiting natural resources and taking full advantage of the political bureaucratic nexus! It has aggravated the conjectured dire consequences. Development is taking place at the price of the destruction of nature. The spoilage of the Dal Lake causing the locals to abandon their means of livelihood, the soil erosion due to flooding of the Brahmaputra, loss of life and property due to floods almost every few years across various states!
Not only within the country but all across the globe, there is a drastic change in the climate due to devious human activity, thereby altering ecosystems callously. The tsunami in Thailand, the hurricane Katrina and the Sandy Storm in the United States are some examples. There is increase in population and decrease in natural resources. Today deforestation and global warming have reached to such a level that there is a constant environment alarm beeping, via natural disasters.
The World Bank report on climate change warns that a warmer world will trap millions in poverty. Underdeveloped nations will majorly bear the brunt. A scientific report commissioned by the World Bank named “Turn down the Heat”, looks at the possible impact of global warming on the most vulnerable regions of the world. According to it there will be unusual summer heat extremes and water availability in Pakistan and Nepal will be too low for self sufficiency in food production by 2050. Most coastal reefs are projected to be extinct, with the loss of associated fisheries and coastal protection. There would be loss of 41-51% of unique plant species in South Africa and Namibia. The report also projects that 33% of the Kolkata metropolitan area is projected to be exposed to flooding of more than 25 cm in the event of extreme rainfall pattern by 2050.
It is high time to protect our environment. The power and beauty of the natural world cannot be tamed – man is a fool to do so! There is much said and written about environment catastrophe but it is time to pull up the socks. Little things of common sense can go a long way in making a difference. For instance, using buckets and pails for bathing is better than using showers, turn off your vehicle’s engine at red light, reducing red meat consumption or vegan dietary habits, reusing and recycling, using eco-friendly products or reducing the flow of water when washing something can help in restoring the lost environmental balance. Another interesting concept to save our environment is using creativity as a tool to fix the problem. Great creativity can make something out of nothing, a monotonous idea into a great novelty! We need to think differently and out of the box, thereby attracting and involving the human mind to do various things to save our environment.
Apart from this, green societies should be given impetus. These are an association of persons, business and organizations that create local and global support systems developing sustainable resource based communities. Grooming green societies is grooming culture of optimum utilization. Last but not the least, both our central and state governments should not merely provide financial help but also devise an adequate plan and policy. A workable solution is the need of the hour because – TO MOULD THE HISTORY OF OUR FUTURE, WE NEED TO MOULD THE ENVIRONMENT OF OUR PRESENT HARMONIOUSLY!
Throughout the world masks have been prevalent in rituals and festivities since antiquity. Hollywood movies and popular English Literature has much familiarized us with masks at the masquerade parties in the West. But not many know that India too has a unique cultural legacy of masks and mask making. This fantastic mask craftsmanship has been preserved and is being passed on from generation to generation on a tranquil riverine island of Majuli on the Brahmaputra River in Assam. Today Majuli has carved a special place for itself amongst culture aficionados across the world, especially for its art of mask making.
The island of Majuli can be accessed by ferries via Jorhat city. The dock on the island gives it a barren and desolate look but do not fall for this mirage because as you wheel inside, Majuli welcomes you with lush greenery and offers you the colours, tastes, music, art, languages and traditions of Assam and its tribal communities, especially if you visit it during the festive season around Dussehra and Diwali. Inside Majuli, the island is best enjoyed on bicycles and bikes. The rustic thatched bamboo huts in traditional Mishing style on river side or in the fields create picturesque scenes that calm the mind. As you traverse across Majuli, it is worth observing the everyday life of the agrarian folk here. Homestays are quite popular on this island where the local freshly brewed rice beer and authentic delicacies like Porang Apin (rice cooked in tora leaves), Pamnam (fish baked in banana leaves) among others provide a new experience to the palate.
The island of Majuli is also the seat of neo-Vaishnavite culture of Assam that houses Satras or monasteries that have been established here by Mahapurush Sankardeva in late 15th century. The fine details on the decorative wood panels on some of the ancient Satras here represent the tribal art, folk culture and also the heritage of Ahom Kingdom. These Satras are now important centres of traditional performing arts. Each Satra has a distinct identity and serves as a sanctorium to a different art form. For instance, the Auniati Satra stores ancient artifacts and is famous for traditional Mishing tribal dances and Paalnaam which is form of congregational prayer.
The Dakhinpat and Garamur Satras stage raas leela and bhaonas which are theater performances that make use of the popular dramatic masks made exclusively in Majuli. The most renowned amongst these is Shamaguri Satra that has brought Majuli to the foreground for its art of mask making with some of its remarkable folk creations also being exhibited in Victoria and Alberta Museum in London.
Use of Indigenous material
What differentiates these masks from other folk masks across the country is that they are made from indigenous material of the island and not plaster of paris, and without the use of synthetic colours. The techniques used for it are in fact being used since medieval times where special attention is paid to the intricate details and technicality (now there are also new kinds of masks that have movable jaws making dialogue delivery easier). The traditional art of making masks is passed down from father to son or from the guru or teacher at the Satra to the students.
The technique involves making a three dimensional bamboo framework onto which clay dipped pieces of cloth are plastered. After drying it, a mix of clay and cow dung is layered on it for adding details and giving depth to the mask. Jute fibers and water hyacinth are used for beard, mustaches and hair. Once the mask is complete, a kordhoni (bamboo file) is used to burnish the mask. And finally, the zeal and drama is given to the masks through deft painting. The mask makers of Majuli preferably use vegetable dyes and colours derived from hengul (red) and hentul (yellow) stones.
There are three different types of masks that are made. The ‘Mukha bhaona’ covers the face, ‘Lotokoi’ which is bigger in size extends to the chest and ‘Cho Mukha’ is a head and body mask. The masks are made exactly the way luminary Sankardeva described the characters in his ‘Ankitya Natya’ from which bhaonas have emerged. These bamboo masks are very light in weight, making it convenient and comfortable for the performers to put them on. It takes approximately ten to fifteen days to make them.
It is but natural that when you visit this Satra, you have faces of gods, goddesses, demons, fiends, ogres and all kinds of interesting otherworldly characters with raised brows and flared nostrils from Indian mythology and folklore, as attendees either smiling or scoffing at you, spicing your visit to the otherwise peaceful Majuli.
Where: Majuli is the first island district of India located in the Brahmputra river that passes through the beautiful and enthralling Assam.
What else to watch: Majuli is a birdwatchers delight. Rare species of migratory birds arrive here in winter.
Best time to travel: The Island is open throughout the year but October-November is the best time to experience the island in its full vibrancy and festivity.
How to reach: It is a 15km drive from the city of Jorhat to Nimati Ghat from where the island of Majuli can be accessed through ferries. If you’re in luck you can catch a glimpse and enjoy the extraordinary scenes during sunrise and sunset (although ferries generally start by 8:00 am and end by 4:00 pm; timing varies according to season).
Where to stay: There are many hotels and homestays in Majuli. The Satras also offer guesthouses to the devotees and tourists alike.
Robert Frost felt that “An hour of winter day might seem too short, to make it worth life’s while to wake and sport”, while for Matsuo Basho, “When the winter chrysanthemums go, there’s nothing to write about but radishes”. Whether it is the evil queen of frozen Narnia or the terrible icy ordeal of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant – winter has symbolically represented negativity in almost all the literature and movies I have come across. It might be right for the West, but should we be indoctrinating our mind with what is right for them? Are these white winters really so whiny, rigid and bad?
Well, these waves of thought regarding winters were set in motion when on a fine day in December last year, an aunt of mine asked me how I was doing. My spontaneous jolly reply was, “Very well! Enjoying the winter”. My old aunt raised her brows and looked at me rather petrified and affectionately corrected me saying, “Biba sardiya manaai nahi jandia katia jandia ne” (winters are not to be enjoyed but suffered through). Well this time I raised my brows – a little puzzled, a little amazed!
I cannot deny my love and optimism for winters, not that I’m a sadist! Perhaps, my love for this cold season emerges from the realization how warm and welcoming winters are from inside. Paradoxical it may seem but look at it from another looking glass and it would dawn, that winters have been adding memories to our memory flora since generations. Only we have failed to notice!
The happiness of eating oranges under the balmy sun on a winter day or the sense of relief when a hot water bottle is tucked inside the quilt at night – are all little moments that make for a beautiful life, but sadly enough we often neglect it in the larger pursuits of our lives. It is worth noting that one cannot even enjoy the warmth without experiencing the cold.
My happy memories don’t just end with this! The memory flora rather blooms as the chilling winter approaches and I get to relive the vivid pictures of my childhood – of family reunions at our hill estate around bonfires – peanuts, baked potatoes, cakes, the whiff in the air of rums and whiskies! Or the one and only sarso ka saag and makki ki roti back in Punjab! And yet every year there is more to add, because ironically despite the chill – we still decide to save the dates for the wedding of our loved ones in this season.
My winter cautious aunt also got married in winters and so did I. Certainly my winter saga has lot more lovely stories in its fold and as the season approaches, my mind rings Terri Guillemets words: “Welcome, winter. Your late dawns and chilled breath make me lazy, but I love you nonetheless. “
Human education opens the mind. If humankind has ever unanimously agreed on something then it is the power of education (no wonder when White supremacist, Nazi’s or any authoritarian regime wanted to come to power they first hacked and altered the education systems!).
The scenario today is that the world in 21st century has the most educated population and hence the most comfortable lifestyles that our predecessors could never imagine. Thanks, to the technological revolution and evolution, advanced degrees, deeper understanding of psychology and biotechnology. Over the last 65 years the global literacy rate increased by 4% every 5 years, from 42% in 1960 to 86% in 2015. In spite of this, we have a parallel degradation at a new level in our society. Every day brutal rape cases, sophisticated artificial intelligence attacks, ecological disruption (with fires and floods breaking out too often) clearly point in that direction.
To generalize the entire world population as uneducated literates would not be right. But the deluge of disinformation and the growing instability around the world – be it politics, economics, environment, physical and mental health, makes it imperative to address this turbulence by tracing it back to its root cause which is the human education system.
So, where are we going wrong? How are we a generation of uneducated literates?
Education vs. Literacy
Did you know Osama Bin Laden was a qualified civil engineer? And the famous American murderer Gary Gilmore had an IQ test score of 133? Yes that is true, but the more disturbing truth is that we as a generation fail to distinguish between education and literacy. Literacy is our ability to read and write. On the other hand education encompasses thinking, rationality, wisdom, ethics, sensibility and formation of good character. A degree in any field today is nothing more than the human mental faculties being engineered to read and write in a certain way. However, education is connoted with formal education more often than not. This blurs the line between the two which should have been kept distinct. Therefore, one can graduate as an ‘evil- genius’ but not ‘illiterate-moralist’. It is because the basis for having good grades is literacy and not education in its right sense, or even in accordance with its etymological meaning. And this has precisely become one of the founding reasons for the chaos in the 21st century world, as A.R. Upadhya puts, all literates are not educated and all illiterates are not uneducated.
Educated Literate or Prejudiced Literate
A literate person without a degree today is considered ‘uneducated’ even if the individual is an ethical, cultured, sophisticated, self reliant, well read and dignified being. While, a doctor who creates a ruckus by breaking traffic rules, a public officer who doesn’t mind a little pee on the roadside, or a professor who has no sense of basic etiquettes is considered ‘educated’. Are they educated literates in any way? Majority are not educated literates but prejudiced literates. Our notion of education has reduced its scope to mere literacy and learnedness, completely doing away with the concept of ethics and morality. It is all about flashing your degrees and universities. In fact, it is worth mentioning here that the glory that an educational institute gains because of the learning or brave achievement of some of the individuals (because of their own independent efforts) is trivialized because of the commercial mandates of these institutes that distribute a slice of that glory to all the lesser ones who have enough money to enter these institutes. This prejudiced behavior is highly problematic now than ever before because the 21st century educational institutes have produced too many individuals with shallow character and views that are now equipped with advanced knowledge. This approach becomes cradle to terrorism, red tapism and many other organized crimes. We need to redefine not just the education structure but more importantly our behavior and attitude to curb it.
One out of five sex offenders are university graduates amounting to 34.4%, and there are only 6% of them who have no academic background according to a recent survey. Who is really disoriented then – the uneducated or the educated? Education as we have come to use it now cannot be related to sanity. Never before did any generation so easily believe in conspiracy theories and was disillusioned to this extent (despite the fact that 89% of world population is literate now). Even today, a well educated refined army man or magistrate would have a mindset of having a line of daughters before a son pops out. We say women are at power with men but the number of female infanticide cases still has not reduced. What to do with such refinement and education then?
An alternate prism for why we still prefer to be uneducated literates is that it is easy to sit on a mountain than a needle, and morality is like a needle, it pricks you every time you go wrong. Hence our generation found it easier to ignore it. But where has it led us now. Behold the circus of the world then – where peaceful protests are ended with automatic gun fires in Nigeria, where American president Trump tells its citizens to drink disinfectant, when any political disagreement is considered anti national in India, when the royal house of Thailand thinks it is good time to regain authority by crushing democracy, thousands of Muslims are slaughtered in China, massive protests take over Brazil, a feminist artist is imprisoned for six years on trivial charges in Russia – highlighting only a few.
We are certainly a generation of uneducated literates who are in a crisis of confidence now. Good luck!
“In the rhythm of the needles, there is music for the soul”
That time of the year when light breeze gently feathers across the skin and the sun cheers everyone with the loveliness of its sunshine. When the earth smells of ripeness and fullness, fruit and bounty; and the air is filled with notes of love and laughter. It is then that many sitting in their cozy nooks pick up the needles to knit comfort and warmth, stitch by stitch, for the approaching winters. Knitting has always been associated with peace, healing and pleasant childhood memories. Hand knitting is a beautiful expression of love involving the use of two or more needles to loop yarn into a series of interconnected loops in order to create a finished garment. It is a craft that has given comfort to many a generation across the globe since ages.
A brief history
Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, and from there it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and later to the Americas with European colonization. The oldest knitted artifacts are socks from Egypt, dating from 11th century C.E. While in Europe the earliest known knitted items can be traced to the Spanish Christian Royal families who employed Muslim knitters. Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting including ‘Our Lady Knitting’ by Tommaso da Modenna. There is also mention of knitting in the plays by Shakespeare that were written between 1590 and 1610. In 17th and 18th century hand knitting became an important occupation in Scottish Isles. By mid 19th century hand knitting declined due to the increasing use of mechanical knitting machines. In India, scholars do not have a fixed time period assigned to the introduction of knitting. There is no ancient word in Sanskrit for knitting. Even in Hindi language, the term for knitting is bunaai which means weaving. Textile expert Toolika Gupta is of the opinion that when knitting was introduced in India, it was instantly called bunaai for lack of better word. Therefore, the word ‘weaving’ or bunaai has been synonymous with knitting in this country.
The popularity of any craft has always swayed along the ongoing fashions of the eras and the changing values of the society. The 1920s saw a rise in demand for sweaters and pull-overs with statement styles being set by the likes of Prince Wales (future Edward VIII) wearing Fair Isle sweater to play golf and Coco Chanel incorporating knitwear in high fashion. It was a much sort after craft during the war years too. Again in 1950s and 1960s knitting gained huge popularity with introduction of more bright colours and styles of yarn. But the point to be noted here is that knitting as a hand craft had already lost its charm by this time. It was in mid 19th century itself that hand knitting was taken over by knitting industry and survived only as hobby. By late 20th century it further saw a decline and was rarely taught as a craft in school. With many knitting groups emerging, 21st century indeed saw a resurgence of this craft amongst Millennials but still fails to pass on the skills of this craft to Gen Z who is more occupied with virtual world errands than the real world charm.
Great gift of knitting
Hand knitting is not merely a creative leisure activity. With increasing number of mental health issues, sense of lack, broken families – knitting is a craft that can provide immense therapeutic results. The truth is that the romance of hand knitting is vanishing when it is needed the most. Hand knitting relaxes the mind, soothing its electric sparks by focusing the thoughts in the moment. It makes you still, helps gather yourself and centers your being. More so, it disciplines the faculties of mind and body, thereby increasing patience and concentration. Pain specialists have found that hand knitting changes brain chemistry, resulting in an increase in ‘feel good’ hormones (i.e. serotonin and dopamine). Interestingly, the craft of hand knitting being a binary wrapping code of knit and purl stitches, serves as one of the best brain exercises to increase I.Q. as well. Studies have also shown that knitting has helped reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. The gift of hand knitting certainly lies in its healing nature. It is a craft in which sweetness is infused and calm induced. As is said –
“Sweet contents knit in my soul, in a million happy stitches”
Basics: Learn how to cast on the needle, i.e. put the yarn on the needle Learn to do a knit stitch and purl stitch Learn to cast off the live stitches And you’re ready to make that scarf for this Christmas!