Thursday

Deepavali. More than a Festival

It is an occasion to reflect, to celebrate nature, and to be grateful for the sacrifices made by few great men and women of the past
Deepavali is the pan-Indian festival of light. It is the celebration of freedom at its highest. All Indic traditions (VedicJain and Sikh) have contributed in their own way to the celebration of this festival. Mythologies that function at various levels, along with a history forged by sacrifices of finest men and women of India, have made the festival cherished in the memories and lives of the billion-strong Indian communities. It is the Festival of Light, and this light symbolizes the triumph of that divine, will to freedom that is inherent in humanity against all forces of stagnation and oppression.
Every thing that divides humanity is a hurdle towards the freedom. Hindu nationalists, after all, were proclaiming the unity of the human race from Himalayan peaks while Europe was besieged with racial theories and conflicts. As early as 1910 Sri Aurobindo pointed out that race is a pseudo-scientific category. Veer Savarkar declared in the 1920s that humanity is one from pole to pole and all other divisions are man-made and artificial. And as late as 1940s, Europe was bewitched with racial pseudo-sciences.
Why talk about race during Deepavali?
Triumph over Racism

During the expansion of European colonialism, colonial “scholars” — who were often missionaries or administrators — tried to present the history of the people of continents like Asia, Africa and the Americas. They derived the lineage of these people from Ham, a son of the Biblical figure Noah. Why Ham? Because Noah cursed him and his descendents with servitude to the descendants of Noah’s other two sons. This mythology of Genesis was transformed into the history of the people whose continents the Europeans colonized. The curse of Noah justified slavery. Even after the abolition of slavery, it made Europeans feel good about the civilizing mission they were to take up among the dark-skinned races of the world.
In India a variant of this Hamitic myth set the dark-skinned Dravidians beneath the fair- skinned Aryan invaders (who were descendants of Shem or Japheth as per the guesses of the researcher concerned). Soon the demons of Hindu mythologies became dark-skinned Dravidians and the Gods fair-skinned Aryans with blond hairs for special effects. Social stagnation in a colonially impoverished society provided a fertile ground for breeding political movements which applied racial categories to social inequalities sprouted.
For the colonial administrators these movements were blessings in disguise, and they encouraged these social divides to counter the rising tide of the anti-colonial freedom movement in India. In the process the beautiful cultural traditions of India became victims of racial interpretations. Deepavali is one such. In South India the Dravidian supremacist movement was run by E. V. Ramasami, a disgruntled semi-literate Congressman. He declared that Narakasura — a demon whose death is celebrated as Deepavali in South India– was Dravidian and that he was killed by deceit by Aryan invaders. So he declared that Deepavali should be a day of mourning for Tamils.
It is interesting to note that even though Dravidian ideology — which is racism camouflaged as social justice — is the ideology of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, people have rejected this racial interpretation of the Deepavali mythology. Tamil Nadu is full of children bursting crackers and people exchanging sweets on the day of Deepavali — virtually indistinguishable from the rest of India. Deepavali thus symbolizes in Tamil Nadu the victory of Tamil culture, which is an integral yet an important part of Indian culture, against racist propaganda. To feel the significance of this cultural victory over racist narrative look at Rwanda, where a parallel racist divide of the people by Hamitic myth-turned-history resulted in genocide and massacres and wars among people of the same stock and culture who were made to believe that they were alien races.
Eco-Myths of Deepavali
Killing of Narakasura
For South Indians the prevalent mythology of Deepavali is the killing of Narakasura, a demon born when Vishnu rescued Earth from chaos. Narakasura, though born of divine parents, had an uncontrollable urge to conquer the entire universe. He imprisoned women. In the end he was met in battle by Vishnu, who was aided by an incarnation of Mother Earth. Ultimately he was killed not by Vishnu but by Mother Earth, whose son he happens to be. The moment of death was also the moment of repentance and realization. Realizing his wrongs the dying demon requested that his death be celebrated as the Festival of Light.
Are not we too the children of Earth carrying the divinity within and yet act with an uncontrollable urge to control all nature? And have not our technologies, born out of an urge to control nature, created a serious imbalance between yin and yang and relegated the feminine into dungeons of our unconscious? Then will not Gaia — Mother Earth — remove our species if we do not make our presiding paradigms sustainable?
Lakshmi Emerges from the Churning

Hindu mythology offers an inner map to a deeper reality that can reconnect with solutions for the crisis the individual and the collective humanity faces. Lakshmi symbolizes the wealth that is holistic: it is wealth that puts welfare (Shub) before profit (Laabh).
Deepavali is the day she emerged from the celestial ocean churned by both the divine and demonic beings. In a way that is the story of every invention, every progress that humanity made from the day our distant evolutionary cousin Homo erectus discovered fire.
Every progress made out of the churning also contains in it the hidden cost, the evolutionary cost which if not taken into account properly can lead to a holocaust – natural or ecological. Humanity needs an inner strength coupled with wisdom to overcome that hidden cost – like Shiva drinking the poison that came out of the churning. Then alone the wealth holistic and dynamic which Lakshmi symbolizes emerges.
Lifting the Govardhan Hill by Sri Krishna
This was also the day when Sri Krishna a rebellious cowherd raised his voice against the unseen celestial Gods and urged his people to venerate nature instead. Sri Krishna made them understand that humanity is part of the web of life which also includes mountains and streams. He showed that ultimately it shall be our relation to down to earth nature rather than sky god-father figures that shall protect humanity during ecological crisis.
The mythology of Deepavali has layers and layers of meaning and we humans as a species would do well to ponder over it.
Historic Associations with Deepavali


Lord Mahavira the last of the Jain Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana or Liberation on this day at Pavapuri on October 15 527 CE – it was on a Deepavali dawn. Mahavira taught absolute non-violence not only against one’s enemies or believers in one’s own religion but even towards poisonous animals and in fact towards all existence. In the Sikh Dharma, the third Sikh Guru, Guru Amar Dhas made Deepavali Sikhs should gather together and get the blessings of the Guru. It was also the day the foundation stone of Har-Mandir Sahib was laid. It was also the day Guru Hargovind humbled the Moghul tyrant who had jailed him. He made the Mughal not only release the Guru from the jail, but also through the grace of Guru another 52 Hindu chieftains whom the tyrant had imprisoned.
The Sacrifices We Should Remember
Bhai Mani Singh (circa 1662-1737 CE)

Then as we celebrate Deepavali we cannot forget the kind of sacrifices associated with it. One such is that of Bhai Mani Singh of the Khalsa Panth who in 1737 CE sacrificed his life for the right to celebrate Deepavali in the Golden Temple (Harmandir) of Punjab. He was cut limb by limb and tortured for his “offense” in organizing the Festival of Light. With the choice either to embrace Islam or death under torture, Bhai Mani Singh, with his being fixed in EkOnkar allowed the executioner to cut every inch of his body. Sikh tradition remembers how the martyr compassionately reminded the executioner to carry out the torture, when at one stage the executioner himself staggered at his own brutality. ‘I do not want you to get punished because you did not torture me properly’, the martyr said his hesitant torturer in a supreme display of compassion. To this day Sikhs remember this super-human sacrifice as they light the lamps in Gurudwaras.
Light again Shines in the Colonial Darkness

Less well known is the sacrifice indentured laborers of Indian origin underwent in Africa for their right to celebrate Deepavali. Two historians, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, in their book titled “Inside Indenture” revealed how indentured Indian laborers who went to Africa in the 1860s to work in the sugarcane fields relentlessly fought for their right to celebrate Deepavali — which the colonial authorities refused. At last they won their right to celebrate the festival in 1907. Says Desai:
Being the 100th year of celebrations, we need to recognize and pay homage to those indentured laborers and many other Hindus who sacrificed a great deal to convince the white colonial authorities that Hinduism was a religion and that they had a right to celebrate Deepavali.
Thus in South Africa Deepavali became a symbolic clarion call for freedom and end to discrimination that anticipated the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela himself noted how Deepavali helped him when languished for years in the jails of Robben Island.
I recall Mr. Govender from Cape Town and Mr. Padyachee from Pretoria. They would come and offer prayers with us and bring with them parcels of sweetmeats. The authorities were insistent that these parcels were only for believers in the Hindu faith. Through our struggles were able to challenge the authorities on this narrow conception and we insisted that all the embracing philosophies that Hinduism is based on extended a hand to all of humanity.
A Hindu savant could not have expressed the symbolism of Deepavali better than the heart-stirring words of Nelson Mandela:
At this time of Diwali and as I light this sacred lamp I am aware of how this lamp symbolizes the triumph of

  • Enlightenment over blind faith
  • Prosperity over poverty
  • Knowledge of ignorance
  • Good health and well being over disease and ill health
  • Freedom over bondage
Nelson Mandela remembered at this point Swami Dayananda the great Vedic humanist and founder of Arya Samaj. It was not a mere mention as it was Bhai Paramanand of Arya Samaj who stirred the spirit of freedom amidst the indentured laborers in South Africa which later evolved in to the fight against apartheid.
Nelson Mandela stated:
I am told by learned Hindu scholars that as we light the lamp and also pray to the Goddess Laxmi, we need to remember that from our position of well being and prosperity that there are many who are less fortunate and deprived and that we will have to work together to formulate ways of helping to respond to the grinding poverty and desperation in the country.
At this time we also remember leaders and persons who gave their lives for the cause of freedom. Now a we remember Swami Dayanand who was poisoned for his convictions for a free and independent India and who died on Diwali day we remember the many brave persons in our struggle who gave their lives for the cause of freedom We remember Krish Rabillal, Ahmed Timol, Solomon Mahlangu and thousands of others. Those lamps went out and in their place thousands more lamps were lit for there to be freedom and peace in our land.
In conclusion he reinterpreted the Hindu epic Ramayana in the context of the fight for freedom:
In our struggle in this country there are many lessons that can be drawn from the festival and the Epic The Ramayana which is closely associated with the festival. We are on the verge of entering a new era in this country. We have to light lamps of thanks giving the enlightenment as we go forward into the future in peace and hope and prosperity.
Given such a tribute paid to Deepavali by a great son of humanity, what baffles one is the way some Hindus get offended because the racist Dravidianist leaders do not extend Deepavali greetings. Actually Hindus need to get offended only if these corrupt, pseudo-scientific racist politicians greet us on Deepavali.
Because Deepavali is much more than just a festival.
It is an expression in light divine of the great Indian civilization that emphasizes the oneness and divinity of not just humanity but of all existence, in this age of strife and terror. It is also the day Hindus should rededicate themselves to take globally this vision which has been sanctified by the sacrifices of generations of Indians and make the planetary existence noble!
Krinvanto Viswam Aryam-Rig Veda (9-63-5)
This article first appeared in CentreRight India on November 1, 2013.
(reproduced from: http://swarajyamag.com/culture/more-than-a-festival-deepavali)

Oooh those melting eyes


                                                       


Budd the pup

From his beautiful mommy GG

Who herself was a puppy 

Not so long ago.

Filled with curiosity

And not a worry.

The only ask is to explore

Chase the monkeys

Play with mangoes 

Make a reassuring pact

With his master 

For the daily biscuits

That he so adores.

Happy to roll in the grass

And bark furiously 

Because GG is barking. 

For what is play

Without some 

aping, soil and dust.



The lone wanderer


Its bossing time. The Lord of all he surveys and smells:D 

All he is, is a puppy:) 

Will one day break the bounds of puppyhood

Go through some dramatic experiences in life

But for now, he is the Lord of all he surveys

Fully knowing Mommy GG is a bark away:) 

  

Wednesday

Flap your wings, come fly

The 14 hour flight had me re-check my passport over 20 times, 6-movies seen back to back, AND soaked up all the prep material saved by me, on paragliding.  Turns out that paragliding grew out of parachuting. In the 1960's, the military needed to train parachutists on how to perform safe landings. Repeatedly going up and down in an air-plane to drop the parachutists was complicated and time-consuming. In order to fit more landing practice into a day, they would attach the parachutists to a truck with a tow rope.



As the vehicle picked up speed, the parachutist would float higher and higher. Then the parachutist would release the tow rope and descend back to earth. Many parachutists soon became more interested in the floating part than the landing part. For fun, they would launch themselves off steep hills and parachute to the ground below, experimenting with how they could harness air currents to stay in the air longer. A new sport was born.



The elliptical-shaped parachute or wing that is used to fly by para-gliders actually folds up to the size of a backpack when it's not used. This makes the tool-kit of paragliding considerably lighter and more convenient to transport than hang gliders. Para-gliders use air currents and own body weight, to fly to heights of 23,000 feet with mere paragliding sails. Imagine the solitude, the incredible peaceJ





Now for the hard training part, the real practice on the ground. This is the most vital skill of handling the wing on the ground.  My instructor first talked me through the technique, a detailed 101. The romanticism of paragliding being all fun was soon dispensed with.  The first step is to push the face in the direction of the wind and walk/run forward, it is this, that helps the launch, the take off.  Simultaneously you pull on the wing, which causes it to start filling with air. Soon, the wing transforms from a piece of elliptical fabric dragging behind you on the ground into an inflated canopy rising over your head. I saw myself transformed into a kite. I was never good at kite flying, would cut my hand on the thread a zillion times, could never take off the kite from the ground, so I started getting cold feet about paragliding and almost ditched the flying!  I did even consider taking the option of the tandem ride, where you can enjoy the experience without being responsible for controlling the glider. But being a coward aint my middle name! JJ




Tom (my patient instructor) calmly kept talking me though airflow and how it works like the brakes of a car. This analogy helped me gain control of my runaway emotions.. At this point, the wing (the elliptical fabric) is above my head, catching some airflow. To retain control of the wing, I was taught to do an overhead check to ensure the wing is fully inflated and no lines are tangled. Post check I had to run down my designated slope to work up to flying speed. The wing slowly rises and gently picks you up with it. You look down and your feet are no longer touching the ground. You're flying!

It is scary, unnerving and equally overwhelming. You have to let go of the fear soonest, to control your flight. There is no one else up there to help you! This is cut loose freedom like never known before, I was soon a soaring bird in my mindJ  

I was taught in my 4-5 hours of 101 to work with the airflow to create the lift. Air flows over both the top and the bottom of the glider and meets at the edge. Aerodynamics predict that the pressure on the bottom of the glider is higher than on the top of the glider. This creates lift upwards. So tugging the lines, shuffling own body weight, manoeuvring the glider to ensure a constant inflow of air current, is the challenge and the thrill. Wont go into the details of my 101 in terms of 3 basic types of rising air etc.J , suffice to say, took all my being to remember the steering and controlling the wing lessons, while I was up in the sky



If I wanted to turn to the right, I pulled on the right control and released pressure on the left. This made the right side of the wing fly slower and the left faster. Before you know it, the glider smoothly angles rightJ, of course, it's all a matter of finesse and practice. Yanking on the controls can cause the wing to act unpredictably. So its important to stay calm in the head when sailing in the skies.




If for some reason the wing begins to deflate, due to turbulent air or own miscalculation, 9 out of 10 times it usually re-inflates on its own. In the rare instance it doesn't, there is an emergency parachute, which one has to deploy


I think I went into some details on this post, with the hope that some of you readers will bite the bullet when an opportunity arises. Go for it. Flying high above with no noise, no person, is an experience one can only feel and cherish. No words can do justice to the feelings, when, up above.

Thursday

The Great Home for any Arsenal foreign fan

The Armoury and The Emirates are ranked as one of the 3000 must visits in London. For foreign fans like me, visiting the Emirates was up there on the priority must do list! Top class! More on the shopping in a bit. This is the best stadium I've been to in England. Of course I'm a little biased about Emirates, but this stadium is new, clean, you still get the sense of "history" and "class" from it. Must admit the stadium is plush, if you do decide to sit thru the 90 mins, you will be painfree, given the soft cushiony seats provided in the stadium. 8th row from the front, mid field, thats where we were planted for Arsenal home game vs Liverpool. I dont think I have ever seen a more beautiful pitch, than at the Emirates. Lush, smooth.


Fast game, huge crowd of enthusiastic fans, the beautiful stadium handles the capacity crowds with ease. Getting a ticket at short notice is not easy at The Emirates, so if you get one you MUST go! Excellent crowd, a bonhomie so real, brings a lump in the throat. Mighty mighty pride palpable when watching the home team play. Clean loos, speedy service at the counters, lotsa beer and chicken burgers on sale. Ohh btw, just like our vada pao and bhel wallas outside any of our stadiums, there were chicken sandwich sellers outside the Emirates too.




From Piccadilly Circus via Hamleys into The Emirates, we toured the stadium and also the Arsenal museum. So much to know and so much to learn yet:) There is almost something hallowed about the new ground. Very friendly staff, warm and courteous. You enter the stadium from the car park, working your way up to the directors' box, and club level. Then you work your way back down to the changing rooms, dug outs and press areas. The tunnel is out of bounds though. All the way, you are free to take photographs wherever you like and the staff are on hand to answer any questions you may have. See who we spotted, made my day!!:)) The musuem is great too - even for a non-Arsenal fan, make a visit there, you will come away happier:) The stadium is beautifully designed and impressive inside and out. A heads up - walk the 5 minutes or so to see what they did with Highbury, the old Arsenal ground. It's brilliant.





Now the Armoury...so much the heart desires to get from there, everything, but much had to be rationalized - I got a couplea things from here, but my prized possession had to be the the gorgeous navy blue ceramic Arsenal mug. Upon return home, my heart crushed to bits when I unpacked the broken mug:(

Moving forward




Saw this- armoury square stone, couldn't help but think back about RVP, how much pride we felt felt in him. But not all are heros now are they. Wonder how he may be doing...



Getting to and from the Emirates is convenient, on a non match day:) On a match day, be prepared to be surrounded by singing chirpy crowds (that is, if the home team has won) who are in high spirits waiting to catch a tube home - its a long long wait so you better have spare time to stand in those long queues. 

PS: The beers are mighty expensive inside the stadium. What you get at our Wankhede is much cheaper. But you dont get to meet The Boss or Santi at the Wankhede! Consider that:)




Wednesday

Wild & breathless football

Armed with burgers, margaritas and beer, we were as ready as could be. Willing mentally for an exciting attacking Arsenal. Domination. Onwards!





The bets were placed. The gloves were off. The Arsenal fans were bubbling with confidence, the Liverpool fans with fake bravado. This is The Emirates for chrissake!:) ‎




I've been angry, embarrassed, even sad, since Manchester United put us through the humiliation 2 seasons ago. Was unconsciously clutching at that to settle some anger this Monday game. I wasn't gonna return to The Emirates in a hurry after this AFC - LFC match, so in some convoluted fashion was trying to do a 2-in-1! Hoping my physical presence in the stadium will impact the boys to trounce LFC.

We started with a handicap- no Per, no Kosc from the outset. We were starting with an unfamiliar centre-back pairing - inexperienced and not the best defence against the physical threat of Benteke. We could have lost that game in the first half. Dodgy offside call and big chances missed for both sides. You know things are bad when Mesut misplaces 6 passes in one half, or, when you see basic errors from Chamber's. Some say it was a fantastic game of football this, which somehow finished 0-0. I felt let down and cheated of a great attack, I wanted a win at home, to me this result was very disappointing. 




I was looking forward to a kickass game, my first ever at The Emirates, where I wanted to see LFC's butt kicked hard! The FH saw me finish my well manicured nails with LFC dominating and the referee being an ace jerk disallowing the Rambo goal despite he being onside! What a beautiful magical pass from Santi Cazorla when he slipped a weighted pass behind the Liverpool back line for Aaron Ramsey to slot it home, only for it to be incorrectly ruled out for offside.How that hurt:( 

The SH finally saw Arsenal up their game, a massive shift in momentum saw Arsenal begin to look much more threatening, Liverpool started dropping deeper and deeper. Petr Chech made some vital saves for Arsenal, boy! is he a leader! Despite being under pressure for long periods we had a goalkeeper who was more than capable of saving the day for us. He certainly helped keep the scoreline blank:) The fans sitting around us believed Arsenal should have had a penalty after Lucas fouled Giroud on the edge of the box but Michael Oliver didn’t share the same view. Liverpool stayed resolute, were defensively very good and the game closed at 0-0




Would I have ever predicted a draw for this game? Not a chance in hell. But my 10 y.o. nephew, an LFC fan forced me to agree, to put money on a 0-0 result. And lo behold I was financially richer yes, emotionally drained, physically shivering with the cold and rains - this Arsenal game definitely has been stamped in my memory forever. 
 
Seeing Arsene Wenger in the flesh and blood made the tense stalemate a bright spot that fateful monday:):):)  Anyone see the nonchalant aggression?:):)