Friday, March 24, 2017

The Father of Yudhisthira?

Different authors’ texts offer varied interpretations of our ancient texts. The only common denominator is anti-woman patriarchy.
Barisal, a modern lady commentator Irawati Karve, anthropologist, sociologist and writer of the myth blasting Yuganta, raised questions, including one: whether Vidura, the brother of Dhritarashtra and Pandu, actually the Father of the eldest Pandav, Yudhisthir?
The rationale:
Vidura unobtrusively came to the aid of the Pandavs repeatedly, furtively informing them of developments, warning against the Lac Palace, getting the escape tunnel dug etc.; on his part, Yudhisthir’s quiet restraint and wisdom are reminiscent of Vidura.
Officially Vidura was a Suta, offspring of Kshtriya fathers from lower caste women; in this case, a maid of the princesses who bore Pandu and Dhritarashtra from their common father, Vyas.
In her book Karve delineated parallels in the lives of Vidur and Yudhisthira: being of their surroundings and yet not part of it; Vidur always conscious of somehow being lesser than his brothers and Yudhisthira the undeserving beneficiary of the largesse of others.
Amongst others, these included a claim to the kingdom based on his father going off to a forest despite being a crowned king; a beautiful wife and his powerful father-in-law, thanks to the prowess of his younger brother Arjun; Bhim for physical protection during both the Pandavas’ exiles; and Krishna and Arjun for that incomparable Mayasabha and Indraprastha itself.
The war was won by Krishna’s strategies and his brothers’ boldness; he pitifully pleaded with Arjuna to take up arms, threatening to renounce everything otherwise.   How much all that must have rankled, when at the end of it all, he surveyed the blood, gore and ashes that he had won!  Possibly, he quite forgot his own role in gambling away everything.

In those times, it was acceptable to call a brother to step in if a man failed to father an heir.  But, when planning their first child, would it be quite IT to call the God of Death?  One wonders!
As Pandu’s first son and the oldest cousin, raised by Pandu as his own, his right to the throne was premier. But that could be sabotaged if it was known his father was a suta, while Duryodhan, a few months younger had two royal parents.  From Pandu’s point of view too, better brother than any outsider; Yama? The only consideration: strict confidentiality to ensure claim to the throne.
How did it end?   The story goes that after Dhritarashtra, Gandhari, Kunti and Vidura retired to the forests, Vidura went off on his own. Yudhisthir found him, skin and bones under a tree in the jungle. Vidur lay on the ground pulling the son on him, giving his all the intangibles he possessed, brilliance, power, intelligence etc., a practice mentioned in the Upanishads to enable a father to impart all to a deserving son -- a private act of benevolence. 
Like the other Pandav fathers, Vidur was never acknowledged, nor did he seek any special favors, preferring to die in anonymity.


A brand new review of my book Silver Dreams 
by Madhu Menon

By the time I reached the end of Kusum Choppra’s “Silver Dreams”, I felt certain she could do a sequel titled “Golden Dreams”, in a silver, golden, platinum series.
Three successful books, Kusum’s fourth one comes with immeasurable courage, pleasantries, realities and messages for not just the silver lined ones, but for all those reading for pleasure and intellectual stimulation.  In very few words, Silver Dreams is a 2nd innings love story, between a sixty plus, beautiful lady and a seventy plus, handsome man.
But that description would be diminishing the writer’s creation of a mosaic of meticulous characterizations, emotions, understandings, adjustments and lovemaking. Yes, love making, as a much better an option to unnecessary family fights, hierarchy issues, the author suggests.
 Old age syndromes imminent at fifty plus, I almost believed romance was over for my 45+ wife and me. But rejuvenation set in by the end of Silver Dreams. Why not 2nd innings with your own partner? That’s what Silver Dreams is all about. If you are sixty or seventy+, you’ll love this book; I recommend reading it.
If you are nowhere there, maybe in your thirties, this book will offer space and courage to plan for a second innings. You need not find a new partner, just step away from a disturbing past and stop worrying about an unknown future; what you have is today, make it a meaningful, lovable one.
As a reader turning to romantic fiction after recent trysts with books of the calibre of  Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis, Book of Mirdad by Mikhail Naimy and Ishmael by Daniel Quinn, I initially found it tough swimming through whirlpools of relationships, connections and two families with extended family members. But gradually the wonderful relationships, in laws and outlaws coming together grew on me despite the taking in of all extended family members --- alien to a Me, totally ignorant of any relations beyond my wife’s and my siblings, their respective families and our own child.
Intriguingly, Silver Dreams has no obvious protagonist, carrying the burden of the story.  Exception: this all knowing, motivating, punishing and loving lady, Kinnary. It is, in fact the story of her struggle to recreate her own world, that comes with much persistence, pain and sacrifice.  Alongside is her Rana with genetic gifts of voice and a handsome appearance, who helps her create that world, submitting willingly, yet steering away the evils, with his love.
I found Rana’s love amazing; was it obsession with this newfound beauty, compensation for his lost time or taking the full advantage of the time left to him?  His commitment to his Kinnary, despite roller coasting health issues, at the peak of every pleasant event, underlines his firm commitment, unshaken by any storms. Thus, Rana could well be every lady’s Ultimate Male Lover.
Kinnary emerges as an empowered lady, with a failed past with a typical aggressive MCP. Or did that earlier pain, struggle and loss of self-esteem later empower her, making her over cautious to Rana’s advances?
Rebels abound, but the story is that of a couple embracing love in the evening of life; a story of positivity, possibilities. Among the rebels is a stepson who remains aloof throughout to deliver a shocker close to the climax. And just when you expect an imminent tragic end, the author walks her old couple through a garden full of flowers and fragrance. 
Let me warn readers, this is an Indian story, immersed in North Indian ethos, customs, perspective and traditions. If you are not North Indian, you will be guided through the concepts with translation in bracketed italics, as the story flows through marriage ceremonies, home coming rituals and other customs.   The old Hindi songs are also characters that flow with the story.
A female author’s writings are meant to be feminine, but so what? Don’t all readers need to know the feminine side of writing? Kusum Choppra gives you wonderful insights to femininity with explicit, intimate, soulful and physical indulgence. Despite explicit exposure of physical exploration, the author remains a spirited feminist. Yet she dignifies family value systems with a smile when Kinnary accepts the sindhoor from her Rana on one ceremonial occasion.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Checking out the past: Kashmir

Kashmir continues to be an imbroglio for India: the Valley virtually against the rest of India, including Ladakh & Jammu segments of J&K.     How many are aware that the state’s history stretches back 5400 years, long before the advent of Islam?    

Earliest Neolithic sites in the flood plains of Kashmir valley are dated to c. 3000 BCE. Most important of these sites are the settlements at Burzahom, with two Neolithic and one Megalithic phases, purportedly taking the history of Kashmir for almost 5000 years. That covers today’s Jammu, Ladhakh, the Kashmir Valley, and  occupied segments of Kashmir and Baltistan, Trans-Karokaram tracts and Aksai Chin.
Rajatarangini started by Kalhana  around 3450 BCE and 3 later supplementaries,  offers little known facts on the pre-Mahabharat formation of the Valley and the lineage of Kashmir Kings. Like all early scripture handed down by mouth and written down much later; perhaps after the Mahabharatan era when more details than just names appear?

Sage Kashyapa cut a gap in the hills at Baramulla (Varaha-mula). After the valley drained, Kashyapa settled the ancestors of today’s Kashmiri Pundits. Kashyapa-pura, later called Kaspatyros of Herodotus was ruled as a republic during the early Mahabharatan era by Kambojas from a capital, Rajapura, today Rajauri. 

Peer Panjal, distorted from the original Panchala, with its ‘Peer’ designation from Siddha Faqir, bears witness to that past; while Jammu derives from Jambu, after Raja Jambu Lochan who set it up where he saw a goat and a lion drinking water together, in the 14th century BCE.
Srinagar was built by Buddhist Dharmosoka of the Gonanda dynasty between 1448-1400 BCE. Gopaditya (417-357 BCE) built the temple of Adi Sankara in 367-366 BCE.
Krishna’s brother Balaram killed Gonanda I, related to Jarasandha of Magadha, while   Krishna killed his son Damodara I, making his wife Yasovati temporary ruler for 6 months; later succeeded by her son Gonanda II.
The latter died in battle against Arjun’s grandson, Parikshit, king of Hastinapura in 3083 BCE.
 With no heir, Parikshit took it over. Pandava kings ruled over Kashmir for 1331 years from 3083-1752 BCE.
In the first millennium, Kashmir was an important Hindu centre, later Buddhist; in the 9th century, Shaivite.  Islam only came over the 13-15th centuries. The slow pace of change enabled absorption of cultures that gave rise to the renowned charm of Kashmiri Sufi Mysticism. Ranjit Singh annexed Kashmir in 1747. In 1846, handed it over to the British, who sold the Valley to Gulab Singh, the Raja of Jammu for a mere 75 lakhs!!      Now that land is split between India, Pakistan and China.
Authentic sources of Kashmir history are Nilmata Purana (complied c. 500–600 CE) and Rajatarangini (1150 CE).
Kalhana’s Rajatarangini (River of Kings), had  about 8000 Sanskrit verses by 1150 CE; it chronicles the history of Kashmir’s dynasties from Mahabharata times to 12th century CE (4600 years of history and complete list of Kashmir Kings).
During the reign of Muslim kings in Kashmir, three supplements to Rajatarangini were written by Jonaraja (1411–1463 CE), Srivara, and Prajyabhatta and Suka, which end with Akbar’s conquest of Kashmir in 1586 CE.
Then History wrought its own writ, as dynasties and cultures evolved --- now wrangled over by petty politicians of all hues.