Thursday, March 26, 2009

From Navreh to Navratras!!!

Today is a twin-auspicious occasion. On this day, the Kashmiri Pandits celebrate the onset of the Kashmiri New Year, called "Navreh" while Hindus, in general, start the nine-day long celebrations for the Navratras (in honour of the nine avatars of Maa Durga).
On the eve of Navreh (which literally means a ray of new light!!), the Kashmiri Pandit families observe a "thaal-bharun" ritual, in which they fill a thali (metal plate) with uncooked ricegrains. Atop the rice, there is walnut (its four partitions representing the four Vedas!!! with and without kernels), curd, cooked rice, a piece of roti, a pen, a currency note (of any denomination), salt and fresh fruit and a gold ornament. Besides, a few petals of dry flowers as well as a few fresh flowers are also placed on the rice-plate. The reason why walnut (or akhrot) and the dry flowers are a part of this thali is that because of extreme harsh winters in the valley, there used to be no fresh fruit or fresh flower available in Kashmir at the time of onset of new year. That is why, the walnut and dried flowers were used.
But after migration, when KP families settled in other parts of the country and world, fresh fruits and flowers are included as per availability. In fact, KPs celebrating this day in Kashmir itself, can procur all these things from the market as well. That is the changing world and power of technology, I would say but I will come to that later.
Apart from the things discussed above, the two most important things that are placed in this thali are:
1) Nechipatra (or almanac): The Kashmiri Pandit community's religious scholars undertake a tedious process to prepare an almanac every year, which is traditionally released and bought during the onset of traditional new year.
2) Wye, a special weed: Wye, a wild weed, resembling in shape to arabi, and considered pure, is also a part of this traditional thali.
This Thali is then covered with another metal plate for the night and early next morning, just before sunrise, a young member of the family, either boy or girl, takes this thali and circulates it among all the family members. In this way, the KPs welcome the new year, with the hope to receive and enjoy all those ingredients that form part of the thali and also as a kind of thanksgiving to the God Almighty, for keeping them safe and satiated in the year gone by.
Scholars put Navreh as the beginning of the lunar new year, which coincides with the onset of Navratras, celebrated during Chaitra (or spring) month. KPs celebrate their birthdays, death anniversaries, marriages and other auspicious occasions according to this calendar.
However, KPs are not the only ones who celebrate today as the onset of their new year.
This day is also celebrated as New Year's Day in Maharashtra (Gudi Padwa), in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka (Ogadi), by Sindhis as Cheti-Chand as well as in whole of North India as Chaitra Shukla.
Now we come to Navratras, literally meaning "Nine nights." This festival, as told above, is celebrated to invoke the energies emanating from all the nine avatars of Maa Durga. Navratras (or also called Navratris) are celebrated twice every year. One is celebrated during the spring time, which starts from today and the other one falls in the month of September, just at the onset of winters. Thus, twice every year, devotees celebrate the glory of the Goddess and her nine forms, during two different seasonal changes. Fasts are observed during these nine days and special food is cooked, which is devoid of onion, tomatoes and garlic.
Families plant "Jow" (or unchaffed paddygrains) in earthen pots inside a mound of dry earth and sand. Along with the jow, a whole supari is also planted inside the pot. This pot is then placed at a pure and sacred place within the house, where milk and water is sprinkled on it every morning. Just as the paddygrains start sprouting, these are covered with leaves. By the end of the eighth day, the paddygrains have grown into blooming shafts, coloured greenish yellow.
On the ninth day morning, a pooja is performed, wherein neighbourhood girls, who, on this day, are referred to as "Kanjakein" (little girls in reference to Goddess Durga's Mata Vaishno Devi avatar as a young girl), are served with Halwa (a sweet preparation) and poori (round wheatcakes deep fried in oil or ghee). Their feet are washed and then sindoor put on their foreheads, after which they are served the prasad (halwa-poori) and given gifts, etc.
The photograph above shows a thali filled with the Navreh items to give the readers an idea of what it exactly is.
Just one more thing, my fasts also began today and I would be keeping some of them. So, here is for a happy and auspicious Navreh and Navratras for all of us!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Tale of the Royal Spring - Chashm-e-Shahi -

Hello friends, it is back to the Kashmir sojourn after yesterday's halt at the picturesque Billawar.
In this post, I will talk about Chashm-e-Shahi.
"Chashm-e-Shahi" or the Royal Spring is believed to have been discovered by the famous saint-daughter of Kashmir, Roopa Bhawani. Right after its discovery, the "chashma" (or freshwater-spring) was called Chashme Sahibi, after the saint's family name, which was Sahib. However, with the passage of time, the place came to be known more as Chashm-e-Shahi, obviously because of phonetic modifications that are inevitable during public usage and recording of historical facts.
The area around the mouth of the spring was developed into one of the three major Mughal Gardens of Srinagar, Chashm-e-Shahi Garden in 1632. It was a small but beautiful garden , 108 metres long and 38 metres wide. However, with subsequent changes and passage of time, the garden was expanded further and now stands as a major tourist attraction. It is located atop a hillock, overlooking the Nehru Park, Dal Lake and Boulevard Road.
The Governor's House or Raj Bhawan of Srinagar is located just at its foothill.
Chashm-e-Shahi is distributed into three main sections, an aqueduct (the original mouth of the spring), fountains and waterfalls. Besides, the garden is planted with a variety of flowers and even fruit trees.
The freshwater from the spring is believed to be of medicinal value.
During the worse years of terrorism in Kashmir, one had to take special permission from the state police department to be able to visit this garden, however, with the lapse of time, improvement in security scenario and overall decline in terrorism, the security constraints have been removed so that more and more people can enjoy its beauty freely.
On our last trip to the garden in 2004, we saw a vibrant crowd of tourists, from various parts of the country and the world, enjoying a healthy diet of fresh air and sparkling sunshine as well as clicking photographs under the shade of rare trees as well as inside the flower-beds.
So, come enjoy it!!!!!!!
P.S. - The first photograph is of the originating source of the Chashm-e-Shahi while in the second photograph, there is my brother, Prashant and me (facing the camera) seated atop the stairs leading to the Chashma.

Is This Heaven Too???

A very dear friend of mine sent me some photographs from his recent trip to Jammu and Kashmir and I thought I will share the same with you. Sorry for interrupting in my Kashmir sojourn but I couldn't wait to share these pictures with my fellow bloggers. These pictures belong to the Billawar area of Jammu region, which is a very beautiful hill station located 66 kms from Jammu city, along the national highway.
As the photographs suggest, the virgin beauty of this place competes with that of Kashmir but somehow, not many of us (even within J&K) are aware of it. Years ago, I had gone on a short trip to Billawar. It was during my days as a journalist and the trip had been organised by the State Cultural Academy. The purpose of the trip was to honour a local poet, Mr Romal Singh Bhadwal, for his lifelong contribution to art and culture in the region. The poet, well into his 80s, was felicitated in the presence of his family and villagers at Dadwara, one of innumerous lesser known villages in the state.
After the feliciation ceremony, there was lunch, cooked in typical village-style, on earthen choolhas (mud stoves) in huge utensils. The meal was basic fare of rajma (kidney-beans), chawal (rice) and the best of all, Amball {a sweet and sour side-dish prepared wiht pulses, Kaashifal (kind of gourd) and tamarind juice}. Just FYI, Amball is a staple side-dish in Dogri cuisine and is cooked on important occasions like marriage, felicitation etc. The lunch tasted awesome and eating it under an open sky increased its flavour.
Anyways, waking back from my reverie, let me tell you something more about the place. Billawar was founded by a king called Raja Bhopat Pal in 1598-1614 and it remained the capital of Basohli Rajas. The descendants of the Royal family are known as “BILLAWARIAS”.
Billawar town boasts of a number of ancient monuments, old temples, famous among them being Sukrala Mata temple, situated atop a hill and the Mahabilvakeshwar temple. According to popular belief, Pandavas visited Billawar during the last year of exile and were impressed with the "Bill" trees, present abundantly throughout the area. According to historians, Billawar-Basohli (another small town located near Billawar), along with Jammu and Poonch are the three original states wherein the Duggar or Dogra community thrived.
The pictures are self-explanatory and so is the scenic beauty. So, the answer to the title question is...........
Yes, of course!!!!!!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Paani Ki Lehron Par Hichkole Khaati Naav!!!!!!!

Hi Friends,
Hope you enjoyed my last post and here is some more on Kashmir.
This time, I am talking exclusively about the houseboats, the miniature hotels, located on the periphery of the Dal Lake, that have been there since 1860 and are now on the verge of extinction.
It is really sad to learn that the court has ordered the houseboat owners to shut their operations because of the rising pollution levels and depleting natural life within the lake.
According to officials, the Dal Lake figures among the 93 sick lakes of the world and the state pollution control board reported in 2004 that the level of pollutants in the lake was six to eight times above the permissible limit. Along with other factors, the houseboats are considered to be the cause, thus, the restraining order on houseboat operations.
However, those who have enjoyed a comfortable and interesting stay inside these houseboats are not happy to hear that, which brings me to a brief description about the houseboats.
Houseboats in Kashmir:
After descending on the scene more than a hundred years ago, the houseboats have come to be an integral life of the valley, especially the Dal. The official records claim that the first houseboat, named Victory, was designed by a serving officer of the British Army, M T Kenhard. Since then, these houseboats were mostly used to serve as vacation homes for the British officers, who were then facing mutiny in the rest of the country.
After traversing a long course of history of pre and post independence India, the houseboats have become a signature of the Dal Lake. Among other things, their popularity is because of the comfort and real flavour of Kashmiri culture preserved inside thes dwellings. Houseboats are generally made up of cedar wood and contain of living quarters, drawing and dining areas.
The interiors of these houseboats are decorated with carved wooden furniture, embroidered Kashmiri carpets and rugs, as well as various hand-made items, including paper machie objects.
The windows offer a beautiful view of the mountain peaks lining the Dal.
It is this piece of history, which is threatened with oblivion now and I fervently hope that that never happens. Pray with me friends.......

Gar Firdous Bar-Rooh-E Zameen Ast, Hameen Ast-O, Hameen Ast-O, Hameen Ast.....

The words written above are believed to have been uttered by Mughal Emperor Jehangir, when he first set foot in the Kashmir Valley, so smitten was he by the exceptional beauty of the vale. Roughly translated, these words mean "If ever there was heaven on this earth, it is this, it is this, it is..." For the past two decades, however, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has been in news for all the wrong reasons (read terrorism, administrative incapacity, civil unrest, regional strife and political opportunism).I feel so bad even talking about what went wrong with J&K. Therefore, I have decided to celebrate the beauty of my state and all the good things about it to ward off any bad impact that the dismal news arising out of there might have had on its reputation. So, for the next few posts, I will treat you to some rare glimpses into some of the beautiful locations of the valley (to start with). Similar photographs of Jammu and other areas will follow soon. So, enjoy friends.......

About the photograph featured above:

The photograph featured above is a panoramic view of the world famous Dal Lake, which is located within the summer capital of J&K, Srinagar. It is the most favourite destination for tourists, visiting from within and outside the country. It is a naturally occuring water body and is famous for the houseboats, vacation homes built during the British rule, that are one of the major source of revenue to the Kashmiris. Owing to pollution and overall negligence, the lake covers about 11 square kilometers of area, which is almost half of what it used to be two decades ago. It is divided into four basins called Gagribal, Lokut Dal (meaning Small Dal or Junior Dal), Bod Dal (Senior Dal) and Nagin. Tourist spots like Nehru Park, Char Chinar, etc are located as small islands within the Dal Lake.

Some year ago, the lake used to freeze over completely during the winter season, offering the people a chance to enjoy another facet of nature. However, due to global warming and negligence, the freezing Dal is soon becoming a thing of past.

Among other things, Dal has some interesting flora and fauna, including the lotus flower, Lotus stem (known as Nadroo or Kamal Kakdee, a popular Kashmiri vegetable), water lillies and water chestnuts.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Million Dollar Question???????

One of my friends, who is an avid blogger herself, set me thinking with her remarks on my last post, concerning the movie Gulaal and its realistic, hard-hitting concept. So, if anyone of my readers feels bored by the end of this post, blame her ;))
I have been thinking on the issue raised by Priyanka that "Does it make any sense that a person, already seeing a hell lot of reality in REAL LIFE, pays money to see more of it???"
Well, I am myself a fan of movies that take me through the tear-drama, romantic escapades and stomach-aching comedy (a la Karan Johar, Aditya Chopra, Subhash Ghai, Yash Chopra, Rakesh Roshan, Rajkumar Hirani, etc, etc, etc,,,). Believe me, I watch each one of them, as and when I get time and money (more important of the two!!!!)
I mean who wouldnt have laughed along with Munnabhai, Circuit as they went from ward to ward, curing patients and bringing a smile to their faces (to borrow a cliche!) even as Dr Asthana hemmed and hawed over their antics.
I am sure not an eye was left dry when Shahrukh Khan's tear-jerking look came onscreen as he explains to his mother, played by Reema Lagoo, why he cant reciprocate Naina's (Preity Zinta) love because of his heart ailment.
When Rakhee's earnest character of a mother, waiting for her two dead sons to be born again, says, "Mere Karan Arjun Aayenge..Zaroor Aayenge.." well, we believe her against all common sense, because we know "Ki asli zindagi mein bhi filmon ki tarah end mein sab kuch theek ho jata hai, aur agar sab kuch theek na ho, to yeh samajh lena chahiye ki picture abhi baaki hai, mere dost..."
See, films provide an answer to almost every situation, every question, every doubt of our life and thus, there is no overlooking the fact that cinema, in our country and our life, is basically a time machine that takes us away from our daily vagaries, into the arms of a life that we all dream of or strive for. You just have to travel to the southern part of the country and see for yourself, the idol worship that goes on for Rajnikant, Chiranjeevi, and others, who have passed away long ago, like M.G. Ramachandran and N.T. Ramarao.
But all said and done, is cinema just that??????
Should we, a nation of one billion and still poor to a large extent, allow such a costly mass medium to play only one role, that of helping us escape from what we, so fearfully, encounter in our daily life?
Sample a scenario: you are sitting inside your living room, switching channels with the remote, when, you come across an image from any of the three states of Rajasthan, Punjab or Haryana, that of an infant girl child, who is dead and has just been dug out from beneath a pile of earth, after she was put in there by her own father, grandfather, or uncle just because she was born a girl!!! I am sure you would keep thinking about that child for the rest of your day.
Sample another one: In 2001, the current chief minister of Tamil Nadu, Mr M Karunanidhi (I hope he is not reading this) being bodily picked up, with his trademark sunglasses, his chappals and his hair in disarray, and taken to the police station on the orders of the erstwhile CM, Jayalalitha. The visuals shown on television at that time were enough for some of us to tut tut! at the degenerating standard of politics in the country while most of us just shook our heads in disbelief, wondering what lay round the corner for us, the lesser mortals.
These two scenarios, out of a million more, took place in two different corners of the country but people all over the country knew about it within hours, if not minutes, and an opinion was formed, which went on to contribute largely to the changing scenario of our country's social, economic, political, educational faces.
Such is the power of a mass medium and it is in this vein that I ask, should we not use this widely popular and all-encompassing medium to help ourselves get familiar with the brutally difficult life that breathes inside the conundrums that make up our underbelly, be it inside the economic capital Mumbai or the brackish backwaters of UP and Bihar or even our national capital, Delhi?
My Gulaal post from last week was in anticipation of the release of the much-awaited movie by Anurag Kashyap, which was first conceived in 2001, about eight years ago. The movie deals with student politics and the crusade for the lost glory of "Rajputana", with both the issues getting intertwined by the end, which, I agree, was a little off-kilter (hope you read it Anurag).
I liked the movie, though, it is not without limitations but the question that arises out of this discussion is that whether movies should be purely escapist or should there be a balance of dreams with reality?
As far as I am concerned, it is important to balance the cinema of our times in terms of its content, which can be both escapist as well as realistic.
It is important to dream because unless you dream of something, it never happens. Similarly, the realistic cinema of our times is a means to make that dream come. After all, what do we dream of, a better social order, better opportunities for all, economic equanimity and an ESCAPE from the bad things that ARE HAPPENING all around us, isn't it??
So there, the cinema, whether escapist or realistic is not that different from each other. The only difference is that in the former, we continue to live inside that dream albeit hypothetically, while in the latter, we are shaken out of our slumber and goaded to make the dreams come true. The difference, however, lies in that some of us ignore that call while some of us accept it and set out to work......
Well, you cant make your dreams come true unless you work on them, right???

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Aarambh Hai Prachand!!!!!!

It is time to celebrate the festival of colours in India, called Holi, which most of the country will celebrate tomorrow, March 11, 2009, but the youngsters have already started celebrating about a month ago in most of the cities, towns and villages.
Colours, baloons, water-filled, coloured water, pichkaari, find their way into almost every other home in the country, children are found on most of the balconies, on the roads, inside the parks, splashing coloured water on each other.
While adults also enjoy in their own way, the holi celebrations are mostly meant for the young kids, who, for once, dnt mind getting up early on this day and getting drenched and, most importantly, staying drenched till well into the afternoon, when harried mothers, smiling behind their stern expressions, drag the kids inside for an elaborate bath to take off all the colour put into the hair, eyes, ear, etc, etc। Looking forward to enjoy the festival and its sights, though, I do not celebrate much of Holi myself.
However, there is one more thing that I am looking forward to this Holi (actually to be precise, after this Holi) and that is the release of film "गुलाल," filmmaker अनुराग कश्यप's first release after "देव डी ". I have put up a poster of the film, available on Internet, to give the readers an idea of what the film is like (though, I have a hunch that the movie will not be suited to everyone's liking, though I wish I am proven wrong).
The promos are available on Youtube and if anyone cares to watch, here is the link:
The promo looks explosive and I am sure that the movie will be an even better success than Dev D. It represents the struggles of the youth of today in the backdrop of regional politics (entirely my guess).
The actors are lesser known, except for Kay Kay of course but, nevertheless, their expressions say it all.
It is good that movies of today are ready to shed the burden of being a vehicle for escaping the harsh realities of life, which we simply cannot ignore anymore.
Corruption, political debauchery, regionalism, unemployment, lack of ideals and moral disintegration are the parasites that are eating away into the foundations of our Indian society and kudos to Kashyap and others of his ilk for briging them face to face for us.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Jai Ho!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In an unprecedented show of any India-based film at Oscars in the recent times, 'Slumdog Millionaire' has swept eight Oscars at the 81st Academy Awards:

1)Best Adapted Screenplay
2) Cinematography,
3) Sound,
4) Film Editing,
5) Original Score,
6) Original Song,
7) Direction and
8) Motion Picture.

Musical genius (I refrain from putting in Indian now since he is now more than just an Indian music maestro, he has gone truly global in his art) A R Rahman won two awards with his Jai Ho... composition.

Ironically, it brought to fore an occasion to celebrate what India is (in)famous for but just to see the proverbial silver lining in the cloud, it also brings up hope out of despair, success out of failure and good out of bad.

That I guess, should be the mantra for life for all of us, hai na???

Jai Ho then........

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: The Quest Is Yet To End...

Much water has flown under the bridge and many a remarks, comments, compliments and opinions thrown about in the aftermath of Danny Boyle's take on life in a Mumbai slum, Slumdog Millionaire.
The movie is winning awards left right and centre and is headed to Oscars, with a hefty recommendation in the form of the Golden Globes.
However, the land, where the Slumdog Millionaire was born, is witnessing a debate of a different kind.
In this debate, one side is accusing Boyle of shamelessly cashing in on the poverty-stricken underbelly of India and not showing a more balanced and positive view of the country, which, by all means, is one of the leading economies of the world.
The other side is defending Slumdog by saying that the movie deals with truth and optimism and it is showing what already exists in the country.
The verdict is not yet out as the discussion goes on: over blogs, in the newspapers, on television channels, inside living rooms, on office balconies, inside buses and cars.
Everyone has something or the other to say, So, I thought, why not get together my blogger friends and have our own SAY in this matter.
So, the field is open, anyone wanting to have a say on this matter, is welcome to put his or her remarks, comments, opinion on whether "Slumdog Millionaire is biased because it has chosen to be selective in its portrayal of reality or does it actually show the audience, worldwide and in India, a true picture of slum life in the country?"
The discussion is open to all and anyone who wants to have their say can do so by putting in their remarks in the comments section and taking part in the poll survey that I have put up on the left hand side of the blog, just below the Blog Archive section.
I would be keeping a tab of the discussion and would put up the comments and counter-comments on the blog for everyone's perusal from time to time.
Thank You!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

My First Award in Bloggers' World!!!!

I received my first blogger award from Priyanka Khot (from Delhi Photo Diary) recently. She (along with Charu) was the inspiration behind my blog and ever since I entered bloggers' space, she has been a constant source of encouragement to me to carry on. Therefore, my first thank you goes out to Priyanka for making a blogger out of me.
Then, there are regular readers of my blog, including Charu (from Chai Pe) and Patty (from Old Lady Lincoln), who keep posting their comments to egg me on to blog. Thank you both.
Last, but definitely not the least, are those who keep visiting my blog, either regularly to in between, and keep posting encouraging remarks on my write-ups. I thank all of them for making it possible for me to turn a blogger and stay at it (What an acceptance speech, Filmfare-grade, if not Oscar, you'd agree!!!)
The rules for the Friendship Award are simple:-
*Copy the badge and put it on your blog.
*Link back to the one who passed this tag to you.
*Spread this tag to at least 4 bloggers or more who you think you are friends with.
On my part, I would like to pass on this special award to my friends who blog:
1) Charu for Chai Pe: I love his individual style of blogging and he brings a unique flavour to whatever he posts on his blog.
2) Patty for Old Lady Lincoln: I really admire her zest for life and her philosophical anecdotes, hillarious jokes and crisp quotes that she puts on her blog.
3) Kris for This Will Hurt Me: I am a fan of his photo blog, his characteristically witty write-ups, AND his two sons (Henry and Ezra), who are the reigning superstars on his blog.