Blog Archive



2017



Phoenix ~ Rising from the ashes!

Posted on: 07-07-2017

I once asked Manu Ghosh what it feels like to be a widow in the ancient holy city of Vrindavan, India. The look on her face told me… nothing. Because the scriptures solemnly forbid a widow from feeling anything. The life mission of a widow is to pay for her bad karma by trading every little joy of life for lifeless existence, and thinking colourless thoughts of penance. The widows in passionless white were resolute in the belief that they are sinners and must not budge from their chosen path of renunciation. They kept their desire to celebrate life and make a choice of right to be happy, suppressed, until they were given the option to taste happiness and experience the childlike euphoria. Their severe struggle to stay alive for all these years and ever since fate meted out a sever blow, suddenly stopped making any sense. Hence, throwing caution to the wind, the widows took a leap of faith in trying to find a real meaning to staying alive happily. They fought the battle between spontaneity and scriptures and eventually found a meaning to their, otherwise, meaningless and tabooed existence. The power within these women drove them to soar high as Phoenix from the ashes while discarding the struggle that each one of them went through and come out victorious. Fate appeared weak before their strong desire to make a choice. Everyone has a right to make a choice to be happy…so do the widows.



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The Thirst of Drought

Posted on: 06-07-2017

“We don’t know how we are surviving and how long we will survive”, said Phoolchand with his voice dripping with resignation. Bundelkhand Region, covering a part of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh missed 3 seasons of monsoons and all around there are endless eerily empty fields. Lakes, rivers and wells have dried up. Unchecked exploitation of ground water is playing havoc with the environment. Trees are dead. Occasional arrival of a water-tanker in a village leads to a mad scramble. Agile children climb atop the tanker to insert the pipeline of their family. Anxious mothers wait below at the other end of the pipe, inserted into water vessels for much needed basic requirement of life. The other side of this horror is that there is no vegetation and without food and water, thousands of cattle are dying. The countryside smells of rotting flesh and is sculptured by animal bones. Children have stopped going to schools, instead they are going about looking for water. The bone-dry, craggy and cracked carcasses of waterbodies like lakes, tanks, canals and even rivers are strewn all over. Waterbodies which gave life sustaining water are now themselves lifeless. Wells have dried up and the deeper people bore into the earth, the further the water level recedes. Unchecked exploitation of ground water is playing havoc with the environment. Trees are dying as their roots are unable to win their quest for water. Despair and angst are the currency with which people transact drought. 



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2016



LITTLE TRAIN FROM MEMORY LANE ~ On A Journey Of Holding On

Posted on: 19-09-2016

It was 5.30 on a winter morning at the railway station of the former princely state of Gwalior. I was waiting on the platform, holding a ticket which I had just bought for the princely sum of Rs. 29. When I saw the mist part and a ghostly silhouette pull into the platform, spewing smoke off its top with gusto. It seemed nobody had told the poor old carriage that a couple of centuries had passed.

At first glance it seemed that the Gwalior-Sheopur Kalan passenger train was still trying to hold on to the 19th century, when she was born.

She was to depart at 6.15 am. I had been advised to report early to get a seat – the ‘seat’ being a few inches of space on one of the hard wood benches that had been polished smooth by the sands of time and generations of rustic bottoms. Turned out 45 minutes early wasn’t good enough. Because the 7 bogies, which could hold 200 odd souls, were all taken, by grinning, bright-eyed locals. However, room was made for me by helping hands and warm smiles. Curious glances greeted my camera. And history was narrated to me with moustache-twirling pride.

This was the longest remaining narrow gauge route in the world. Covering 198 kms at the stately average speed of 18 kmph. And in the eleven hours that she took to run her course, she cut through the revered Chambal ravines, as if defying the dacoits to stop her if they could. Truth is, she was never stopped, because the Gabbar Singhs also hitched a ride. The Sheopur passenger train was also the bandits’ way of holding on to civilization.

Yes, the train never refused a ride to anyone, said Rambharose Singh Rathore, as he straightened his blue turban, in a desi gesture of tipping the hat to a legend. And even as I heard this story of magnanimity, I looked out and saw living proof of his words – as bouquets of people hung out of every door. Not to mention scores of dangling feet right outside every window, which were attached to the rooftop travellers. The train that never refused a ride to anyone, was carrying about 3 times her capacity.

I was advised that it needed years of practice to graduate to the elevated status of a rooftop traveller. As the adventurous travellers, while trying to balance themselves on the rocking roof, have to keep a keen eye on approaching obstacles, and be ready to swing down temporarily when the train passed under low truss bridges. For the non-swingers, the only other option was to lie flat with the crossbeams zipping past barely inches above one’s nose. Desperately holding on till their destination arrived.

I learnt that the Sheopur passenger train was known to make unscheduled stops, pausing as if to catch her breath next to pretty mustard fields, sparkling streams and quaint farmhouses. At one of these breaks, I took the opportunity to cozy up to driver-saab. The elderly Anwar Khan-saab treated his train with the love and tenderness of a lifetime companion. He told me that after every round trip, he took her personally to the Gwalior rail yard for maintenance. I’ve had a great run with her, said driver-saab, running his gnarled hand over age-old dials and knobs. And his eyes took on a faraway look, as he tried to hold on to fading memories of younger days and the melancholic reality of the present, of knowing that his days and that of his beloved train were numbered. Like most of the narrow gauge trains of India, the Gwalior-Sheopur Kalan Passenger Train would soon see its last run.

I returned to my compartment, to be welcomed as an old friend. Space was recreated, questions on driver-saab’s well-being were asked, water was offered. Before I had a sip, I paused and asked Rambharose, which end of the compartment was the toilet? He smiled and shook his head. The train had no toilet.

I had no option but to hold on.



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Phoenix ~ Rising from the ashes!

Posted on: 16-02-2016

I once asked Manu Ghosh what it feels like to be a widow in the ancient holy city of Vrindavan, India. The look on her face told me… nothing. Because the scriptures solemnly forbid a widow from feeling anything. The life mission of a widow is to pay for her bad karma. By trading every little joy of life for lifeless existence. By marking days, eating bland food, living in bleak surroundings, thinking colourless thoughts of penance.

Manu Ghosh and her band of girls in passionless white.

Resolute in the belief that they are sinners and must not budge from their chosen path of renunciation. But I sensed that underneath all the white there was a hidden rainbow.

They kept their desire to celebrate life and make a choice of right to be happy, suppressed, until they were given the option to taste happiness and experience the childlike euphoria. Their severe struggle to stay alive for all these years and ever since fate meted out a sever blow, suddenly stopped making any sense. Hence, throwing caution to the wind , Manu Ghosh and her band of girls, took a leap of faith in trying to find a real meaning to staying alive happily. They fought the battle between spontaneity and scriptures and eventually they were successful in finding a meaning to their, otherwise, meaningless and bleak existence.

The power within these women drove them to soar high as Phoenix from the ashes and see a new life while discarding the struggle that each one of them went through and come out victorious. Fate appeared weak before their strong desire to make a choice.

Everyone has a right to make a choice to be happy…so do the widows….



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