Friday, February 22, 2013

Chanakya's new Manifesto - to resolve the crisis within India

A non-fiction


Pavan K. Varma
Publisher : Aleph book company

We have exercised our franchise, voted them to power but many of us are not happy with the way our country is shaping up. Everyday, we read in newspapers about the ineffective governance in the form of dynastic politics, coalition government, corruption in the implemention of developmental policies, insecurity in the form of cross border terrorism, blasts, human outrage etc. and feel helpless and frustrated.

To counter this and take stock of the situation Pavan K varma a former IFS officer has proposed Chanakya’s New Manifesto. This 248 page book analyzes the many challenges our country faces and proposes clear and unambiguous solution to them.

The author clearly states in the prologue that this book is inspired by Chanakya’s s great work The Arthashastra, which he studied at length and spent considerable time thinking about the subjects he would tackle and approach.

His reason for the inspiration is that in the course of one life time, Chanakya groomed a king, deposed another, helped to throw the mighty Greeks united a fractious territory  and help consolidate the great Maurya empire. He crowned all these achievements by writing India’s  and perhaps the world’s first comprehensive treatise on statecraft called Arthashastra much before Machiavelli wrote ‘The prince’.

Along with that he cites several reasons for why he titled his book “Chanakya.” “He (Chanakya) was a man who was capable of exceptional clarity of thought and rigour of intellectual discipline. Firstly, he believed in understanding the problem in order to prescribe the right solution. Secondly, he believed in understanding, unsentimentally, the psyche of the people. Thirdly, he believed in leadership. Fourthly, he believed in spotting talent. Fifthly, he believed that no state is of any consequence unless it works for the welfare of the people. Sixthly, you must have, in order for a functioning state, a functioning treasury. Seventhly, analyze systems, not individuals. Lastly, he believed national interest has primacy for a nation.

To begin with  he discusses the crises that loom large in the first chapter’The Crisis’  and then the second chapter ‘1947 and after’, here he discusses the 5 legacies which our founders of our nation like MK Gandhi formulated after august 15,1947 like democracy, planned economic development like 5 year plan, secular society etc., and the next few chapters he segregates the current looming crisis which requires immediate attention. They are the Governance, democracy, corruption, security and the the building of an inclusive society. 

What would chanakya do if confronted with the above crises that beset contemporary India? Using this as the starting point, the  author begins each chapter  with a quote from arthashastra, and then the author with his experienced intelligence discusses each topic with the issues plaguing the part, supporting them with specific examples and statistics citing the names, details and dates precisely.  And thereafter bullets his manifesto which could undo the damage and suggests some possible and pragmatic solution which he believes could bring a change.

The book as the author humbly  claims is only a blue print for change to resolve the crisis and may not be flawless. It has to be debated and modified to suit our country’s best interest. But all the changes that it seeks is attainable within the four corners of the constitution.

What I liked about the book was firstly there are many of us who armchair criticize and find loopholes in the governance, very few offer panacea. This book offers one. Secondly the author illustrates each crisis with specific examples and statistics citing names and dates which sounds authentic. Some of the facts are startling and shocking. Thirdly, it is  not a very complex book and I had marked many places to quote here, but I find there were too many of them and the review is already lengthy.

This book is not a light read but an attentive and definite read for anybody who has a stake in India's future.
About the author: Pavan K. Varma studied history at St Stephen’s College, Delhi, and took a degree in law from Delhi University. He has been press secretary to the president of India, official spokesman of the Foreign Office, director general of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and India’s ambassador to Bhutan. Having taken premature retirement from the Indian Foreign Service, he now seeks to be actively involved in public life.
He has authored several acclaimed and bestselling books, among them, Ghalib: The Man, The Times;Krishna: The Playful Divine; The Great Indian Middle Class; Being Indian: The truth about why the 21st century will be India's; Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity and When Loss is Gain. He has also translated into English the poetry of Gulzar, Kaifi Azmi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pondicherry - where time stands still

 With another 14kms to Pondicherry, we took a detour towards our right and entered a muddy track to reach the international experimental town called  Auroville. We have visited the matri mandir before but we wanted our children to feel and see the serenity and uniqueness of the place . But unfortunately like the previous times, this time too we reached the gates of the matri mandir at around 4.25. Matri mandir closes at 4.30. The security asked us to try our luck but we knew it would not be possible to walk the 2kms to the mandir in that time.  We will make  a leisurely visit some other time,

The matri mandir in the universal town of Auroville.( courtesy: google)

We then drove out of Auroville, driving through this wooded place is an experience in itself. I have written about this place here.

 We then headed  towards Aurobindo Ashram which is in Pondicherry. This closes at 6 but we were on time. Before i continue let me write that this post is not a travel guide but my travel experience at Pondicherry.  

We entered into this peaceful haven where mobiles and cameras are not allowed. This place is where the great revolutionary saint Aurobindo Ghosh is laid to rest in a peaceful central tree courtyard and his French disciple Mira Alfassa ( called the mother) is also laid to rest.  The place is calm and serene owing to the various sadhaks. You don’t have to subscribe to any thoughts to be here but you have to maintain silence throughout your stay inside. There are no obligatory practices, no rituals, no compulsory meditations or systematic instructions .  But the  general principle of the sadhana is the same for all which is surrendering to the divine. You will find many volunteers across all ages doing odd jobs. I found an old lady volunteer with her spine totally bent like a U sweeping and cleaning the already clean floors. This place is absolutely spic and span despite being an open area. The beautiful little garden with lovely blooms in rainbow colors is well maintained. You will enjoy this place if you believe in the vibrations of a place. Being a yoga practitioner, I could feel the vibes of meditation in the place. Perhaps this vibrations is what radiates around the city and surrounds  the union territory with an aura of serenity. The air is redolent with calmness and even you feel the waves on the beach set to a rhythmic pattern and not raging.  I love the peace that pervades through this city , there is a slow pace in the city’s life. Nobody seems to be in a  hurry in the erstwhile French colony which has left its traces here in the form of architecture, language, city planning etc. And thankfully i did not find any modern day structures. If anything, the old buildings are restored by INTACH which consists of French, Tamil and Franco-tamil structures.   Perhaps, I will retire to this place in my old ageJ. Many walk out of The Ashram area buying Auroshika products( the ashram's  store)  which are aromatic and handcrafted but expensive. I am unable to support this post with photographs since photos were not allowed at the Ashram and at the temple below. 

Just across the Rue( that is how roads are called here in the French town)is a lovely temple of Lord Ganesha called Manakula vinayagar temple which i was visiting for the first time.

The beautiful fresco depicting Ganeshji marriage with siddhi and buddhi at the temple entrance.

This 500 year old temple has a rich history. A local legend says that A French man living near the temple frantically tried to remove the idol from the temple  but in vain. Everytime  he removed and threw the idol. The idol reappeared miraculously. The Frenchman convinced by the power of the idol became an ardent devotee of the lord.Hence the god is also called VellaikaranPillai meaning a white’s son.

But this is famous as Manakula Vinayagar temple, Manal in tamil means sand and kulam means pond. Since this is close to the sea shore with lot of sand this ganeshji came to be known thus.
As you enter the temple which has shops on either side selling pooja items and colorful flowers, you are blessed by the temple elephant Lakshmi’s trunk with a light pat on your head. In exchange you have to place a coin in her trunk.

The temple inside has beautiful murals depicting the life of Ganeshji. Very beautiful and artistic just like in the photo above. I have narrated most of the stories to my children during their childhood years, now of course they are more well versed thanks to the various  ACK’s they have read. It would have been nice to click those colorful murals and showcase to the world  but unfortunately photography not allowed .

 It was already 6.30 when we came out of the temple. We walked to the beach front in front of the Chief Secretariat and spent some time on the promenade which is a regular for us everytime we come to Pondi. Like  I said before, there is something meditative about the whole place, the roads look clean, the people calm, the waves of the bay serene.  We enjoyed the peaceful amble along the cobbled promenade which was not very crowded. It is refreshing to feel the waves hit the rocks and sprinkle tiny droplets on your face.  Along with the spirituality connected with this place, The beach stretch is also  a tropical paradise making this place one of the best vacation spots with its various bay side resorts, stilt houses and water sports etc., and this is also the test centre for hot beverages like Goa.

I have visited this place nearly 8 times except my first time during which I had a detailed tour of the city, the rest of the times I have only explored a few places and spent time on the beach. I hope to go for a heritage walk next time. Still so much to do and see at this place.
It was close to 8, we had to drive back 60kms to reach Neyveli our mama’s place.
We  had an early dinner at one of the bayside hotel and brought a spare  tyre for our car and filled our car’s petrol tank also. (UT you see less taxes and so cheaper, saved a few rupees;)  As we drove out, The Christmas spirit was not evident in the city, though the churches were lit with serial lights. Infact, the seventh day Adventist church showed no festive lights .
It was around 8.30 when we left the place. 

Now, all the way to Neyveli through Cuddalore, our familiar route .  Next day we hoped to visit the chettinad region, but unfortunately daughter was down with exertion and we too needed a travel break. We took a break on Christmas day and spent time with our family elders. The day after Xmas to Thanjavur - one of the  royal towns famous for culture, art and  architecture and home to the UNESCO World heritage site - The Brihadeeswarar temple

 Check out some pics but quality not good, except the first photo the rest were taken from a moving vehicle.
                                       The Chief secretariat of Pondicherry overlooking the bay

 Most french houses are colored in This ochre color or grey color and have huge compound walls
 The sacred heart church decorated for Xmas
That is the sign board under a sodium vapor lamb with the leaves of the nearby tree casting its shadow. Most roads in the French side are called Rue and in the Tamil side are acalled Salai.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Kadampadi - The journey not the destination - 2

After a traditional lunch in a hotel at Mahabs, we left the place to our next destination which was app 160kms again on the Coramandal coast. Just 7 kms  on our route, we overshot a road which had an indicator 'Kadampadi- rural tourism village'.  We suddenly placed this village to the  TDC Brochure.

When i picked the brochure at Mahabalipuram, it listed some of the nearby tourist places. One of them was Kadampadi - The two liner about this place described  it as a rural toursim village where one could experience village life, a coracle ride, farming , bullock cart ride, village menu , folk dance etc,. It sounded interesting, we decided to dirty our feet and soak in some village air.   We reversed the vehicle and drove into the road which led us to a muddy track flanked by emerald green fields like these. But sadly, this project seems like a failure which was promoted in 2007 by the Indian government to promote a slice of rustic life to foreigners and domestic tourists. We found from a villager that this village tourism is not active throughout the year now and  happens only during the 3 days of pongal.  Having come thus far, we decided to explore. The H and sonny boy went up the tank bund to find no coracles in the lake. We spent some lazy moments gazing at the villagers working in the fields and enjoyed the cool breeze. 

                                 a city's paradox- unpolluted crisp air, no buildings and lots of open lands filled with greenery like these. we walked through these lands. A visual and soulful treat.

Enroute, we found many hotels selling kumbakonam degree coffee. I don't like coffee   but still decided to try the famous kumbakonam coffee. For a true coffee lover like the H , this taste could give a cappucino or a mocha a run for money. This coffee history and procedure of making  it deserves a separate post from me. Will make a post shortly with inputs from MIL and a hotelier at kumbakonam

Another place where we stopped was at Surabhi organic farm which practises organic farming. Run by a old couple, this place cultivates 20 acres of organic farming producing mushrooms, brinjals, tomatoes, cabbage, greens, lemons and other veggies. It has an entry fee of Rs. 20. This was another interesting stopover for us.
                                                       The plantain saplings
                           It encourages organic manure where kitchen wastes can be stored in those pots above to make vermicompost manure.
the cabbage patches

cluster beans creepers, brinjal plants

It encourages kitchen gardens to be grown in old paint buckets, ice cream tubs and other old recylable plastic containers.

We passed through many scenic places like mudaliarkuppam where the road  was flanked by the bay on one side and the back waters on the other. Just like land farming, shrimps and prawn cultivation took place in the back water farms. Passing through these interesting places, we finally reached one of my favorite town which popular the world over but made more popular now. Thanks to the acclaimed movie 'The life of Pi'. I have visited this place around 8 times and have also blogged about it. But i still have so much  to see and  say about this beautiful place. 

 In my next post.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mahabalipuram aka Mahabs

                    Mahabalipuram - where portraits on sand and stone speak about history and mythology.

Mahabalipuram, once called Mallai kadal/ Mamallapuram  was a famous maritime port of The Pallava kings who ruled from  Kanchipuram in 600 to 750 A.D.  These kings had a flourishing maritime trade  with distant kingdoms of southeast Asia like Cambodia, Malaysia, Sumatra and java. This place today stands as a testimony to the fact that the kings of yore patronized art and architecture. The pagodas, rock cut caves, single stone (monolithic) crafted rathas and bas- reliefs all belonging to the ancient times speak about the riveting legends, their beliefs and lifestyles of  the pallava times. They are a visual treat and speak about the values of artisans in days of yore. They are crafted with faith, love, patience and determination when you had no calipers, T-squares, rulers and other aids to define your geometry and symmetry.

 These rich sculptures, pagodas, bas reliefs and rock formations which defy physics has been recognized by UNESCO (1984), thus this ancient village is listed as a world heritage site and that explains why we have many foreign and domestic tourists who are scholars, devotees, artisans,  architects and historians.

I was here on a December morning. I travelled a 55 kms sea shore route from Chennai to reach here. I always picturise a place I visit with the information and pictures available and was slightly disappointed when I found so many colorful kiosks, it did not match with my sepia toned structures against the blue background of sea  which I saw in many pictures and mentally visualized. Lots of cola, gola, candy stores on either side of the road welcomed us. And many caravan stores selling glares, scarves, hats, caps etc That made me realize that today this place is not just an ancient sea port but has transformed into ‘Mahabs’ – a place where people come to chill, hang out, to experience the sun, sea and sand  at the various boutique hotels and bay side resorts and  has became a prime holiday spot . Notably a travel site which I have subscribed to on FB marked this as one of the favorite  year end vacation spot for 2012 along  with Pondicherry.That explained the crowd.

 While paying the parking fee, we picked up the brochure/ pamphlet from the  tourist office and took their guidance on the important places we must visit since we had to  pack off in 3 hours time.

The important places he marked were in the order - Krishna’s butter ball, Ganesha ratha, Arjuna’s penance, krishna mandapam, light  house, five rathas and shore temple.

We  leisurely  walked around  reading the above monuments but  missed  one – the 5 rathas. Three hours time was very little to feel and read the place, we need atleast one day to go around. We missed the 5 rathas but spent considerable amount of time exploring the street side artisan shops and meeting the artisans who are the soul of Mahabalipuram . At mahabs,  apart form the sound of wind and waves, you can’t miss the ‘tung – tung’ sound of hammer and chisel on stone.

Some captures at the place, 

Krishna's Butter ball
It is magical to see a huge rock like this on a buttery surface where standing even for a few seconds is difficult.  This stone has been tried  to be moved by many pallava kings, elephants and even scientists but it has defied physics and stands still. What holds it? no body knows.
 Arjuna's penance the world's largest bas- relief measuring 27mX9m is the pride of the place. It has carvings of celestial nymphs, gods,beasts, birds etc. adjoining is the rock cut cave represented by other 13 caves around.

                                                        A cross view of the above relief

                               A frame from Varaha cave depicting Vamana placing his third leg on  king Bali'. while keeping one on earth and the other on sky.

                                     The rayar gopuram or mandapam had beautiful carvings from dashaavatar. This i believe was one of the unfinished pallava project.
a close up of the dashavatar speaks about the hand dexterity of the artisans. Much of the precision work are not protected by weather, the roughness adds to the antique value of this place.

Mahishasuramardini cave -  It was pathetic to hear a guide telling a few foreign tourists " This is Durga, she is a powerful women who sit on a lion and killed rakshasas". I could only see a perplexed look on the tourists. I am sure they would not know who was durga or what rakshasas meant or do they know india and indian mythology better than indians?!  Tamilnadu tourism, train the guides . They are the cultural ambassadors, i believe. Else, history, mythology and culture gets distorted.
There was a lady guide  who appeared very educated, she was explaining the above relief to a couple of tourists. This was a practice followed in days of yore to show their loyalty to their masters. The men beheaded their heads as shown in the pic by holding their tufts, thus giving way to bali peetams or sacrfiicial altars. A gruesome practice of yore nevertheless beautifully explained by the guide. I found her later traveling in the vehicle of 'The Banyan' organization. so doubt if she was a guide, perhaps a person known to the tourists.  whatever, these places need people like her to appreciate the place.

the tower above the cave is beautifully crafted and has a railing around which gives a view of the place around

 This light house was not built by pallavas. It was built in 1900(?) . This has a steep staircase to the top,  My son's cap flew off his head while he was standing on the platform above at the top. 12 noon is the closing time and we were here at 11.45 making us the last few visitors. The rest were not issued tickets. So i had the window all to myself and clicked the below picture of the shore temple from  the top window (just below the railing).

 It is on my wish list to see the shore temple at night and capture it. I believe the temple against the moonlight (flood lit night) against the swish of the waves and ink blue sky is surrreal( as seen in movies). One of the oldest temples of India illustrating the dravidian architecture. 6 such temples are submerged leaving this 7th one alone.

A mahabalipuram post is incomplete without stone art and sculpture. It has a stone art museum( i missed it) and a government run college of sculpture and architecture which is one of its kind in India( or only one?). Nowhere else, do we have a college for sculpture in India said one of the artisans.

 A street full of workshops outside the lighthouse selling stone art like these. I picked up those beautifully carved lampdomes which are eggshaped. They source their rawmaterials like sand stone, marble from places like Rajasthan, cudappah etc.

 This man was sharpening his tools when i requested him to show how he works, he demonstrated. He has not studied art from a college, but learnt the trade from his father, he belongs to a lineage of stone craftsmen. Perhaps many even trace their lineage to the pallava times.
 Here is a student of fine arts from government college of sculpture and architecture earning on a spare time during his holiday. Buddha and Ganesha are the most selling idols he says. Many of these graduates on graduating hold their own art shops or fly to foreign shores like Srilanka, Indonesia, Singapore etc.,
                       They are icons of art and hold a place of pride in most artistic homes and most foreign       tourists buy them as souveniors.