lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A caller tune and a story

I am going through a phase of reading old favourites again. So there I was in the middle of reading Sripada Subramanya Sastry again- his autobiography, called anubahavaaloo jnaapkaloo', reminiscences. I have read the work many times before and Sastry always provides another angle to consider, another thing to ponder, every time I read him.

This time, I stopped at a particular usage. I came across it before, of course, in his books that somebody took on the aspect or avatar of Virabhadra. I always assumed, somewhat correctly, that somebody got hopping mad, blew a fuse and went nuclear and all that.

This time, I actually considered why Sastry used that particular phrase and that took me on a trip of searching memory and books that ended with a delightful coincidence.

See, when creation happened, the three aspects of it, Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, were bestowed with the power that would activate them and make them functional, the feminine principle. Mother Goddess completed them and made them what they were.

Well, Siva and Vishnu won a battle over the evil ne'er-do-wells and boasted about this to their better halves. Siva's feminine aspect took exception at not being credited and deserted him. Then after some aeons, gods managed to please Mother Goddess enough that she granted a boon that she would incarnate as a daughter to Daksha, and wed Siva.

Ah well. Siva by that time was an outcast god, tainted with being cursed to carry eternally the fifth skull of Brahma, which he beheaded in an argument. Not just that, he was a nomad, frequented cremation grounds and was generally uncouth. But Daksha duly begat Sati and she was given in marriage to Siva.

Then Daksha planned a major sacrifice, and invited everybody and his wife, omitting only this daughter and her husband. Sati attended the sacrifice nevertheless, was ignored and further had to listen to her husband being belittled.

She felt humiliated, insulted and outraged. She got mad, and got even by immolating herself in the sacrificial fire. Bad move, but still.

As if that wasn't enough to ruin the party, Siva learnt of this, plucked two hairs out of his matted locks and threw them to the ground, creating Virabhadra and Bhradrakali, who destroyed the sacrificial altar, scattered the invitees and beheaded Daksha.

That is the story of Virabhadra, a metaphor for destruction in a fit of temper, rather than just being furious. Sastry used the phrase, becoming avatar of Virabhadra, fittingly. He was describing how he rebelled against his brother's persecution and cut up the brother's favourite coat to shreds.

To digress a bit, I always feel awkward calling doctors on their mobiles. Doctors are busy people, and it feels an intrusion to call them. I prefer to make appointments and see them instead. But my doctor had asked me to call him at a certain time, so I didn't feel too awkward calling him on his mobile this time.

I can't be bothered to download ring tones, my phone has plenty to choose from, thank you very much, so downloading call tunes that will serenade people who call me until I answer is unthinkable. But I do hear songs people choose to play to their callers.

As my doctor took a while to answer, I heard a snatch of a song. It was in Bengali, with the usual dirge-like tune and soulful (that means the singer sounds like he or she will burst into tears soon) rendition. It wasn't Rabindra Sangeet, as far as I could tell. Once the business part of the call was out of the way, I asked my doctor about the tune. Oh, it is from the film, Maru Tirtha Hinglaj, he said. I thanked him and rang off.

I asked the Resident Bengali about it, and he said that it was a film adapted from an eponymous travelogue. It means 'oasis of Hinglaj', he said, it is one of the Shakti Peethas, an obscure one.

Now that made me smile. The Shakti Peethas came into being because of Siva's grief and rage and what happened after Virabhadra, you see?

After the destruction of Daksha's sacrifice, Siva took up the body of Sati, and depending on the version you read, either began a dance of grief and destruction or wandered all over the earth. If you subscribe to the dance version, Vishnu had to intervene to stop the universe coming to an untimely end, and did it by taking up his discus and cutting Sati's body to pieces. If you prefer the walkabout version, Vishnu followed Siva, and shot off pieces of Sati as and when he could with his bow.

Wherever a part of Sati fell, there came to be a Peetha, Tirtha or a place of divine power. Shakti is worshipped in all these places along with Siva. There are fifty-one of them, though Devi Bhagavata lists many more, where only insignificant parts of body fell, perhaps.

Hinglaj is the only Shakti Peetha in Pakistan, and didn't used to be visited much because of its remoteness and the hardship of travel. I remember reading about it a few years ago, now that I did some research.

Isn't it amazing and a wonderful coincidence that Sastry and Virabhadra and a chance question about a caller tune led to my finding out about this?


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

One thing I ask

I know we spoke only a little while ago, but I haven't said all I wanted to. I never do, when we talk. I am writing because it is very important to me that you understand. Please keep your promise.

Promise me, I said. I knew my voice was breaking, I'd cry in a moment. And what if I don't, you asked. I heard the laugh in the voice, and could picture the smile. You will promise and keep the promise, but you can't stop teasing, can you?

It is not much I am asking for, am I? A few minutes of togetherness, just you and me; I am not demanding more, after all. Even this demand springs from our history, you know that.

We have years of history, after all. The years you toiled and I fretted about you, the days we spent worrying about each other, the few glorious times when we were together; they all shape this plea.

My shame and yours; my tragedies, yours; we couldn't stop talking those days, remember? You healed me; I like to think I healed you, too. You made me feel cherished and special. We only knew each other online, but we knew each other.

But of course, life intervenes. We are not meant to be together. Neither of us minds it, really, because what we have is different, special and precious.

I remember my first glimpse of you. I knew it was you, you sent me pictures. You were scanning the street and looked so young and vulnerable and adorable. Our eyes met because I stared pointedly at you, then I gestured, come into my parlour. I admired you walking, crossing the street and fell in love when you held open a door a doorman already did.

Just once, you know? I want us to be together. So I can rest my cheek on your shoulder. So I can feel your arms wrapping me in a hug. So I can feel your breath fan my face and I can reach up and pat your cheek or plant a kiss on that incredibly beautiful mouth. So I can cry and have safe haven of your embrace to do so.

Our lives are parallel lines, but let's meet at the seeming horizon once. I need you now.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Nine gems

"pancha ratnas, he wants from me, " I smiled as I finished reading. "saadhinchenE O manasaa," I sang too. I admit I giggled and sniggered also. Five gems, he wanted.

"What is this about," he inquired. I explained that a famous blogger tagged me. "He wants you to write about the pancha ratnas?" he asked incredulously. "Is he a classical music buff? You only play one in its entirety, the rest you can only play snatches."

There are several versions of the five gems. The absolute five gems in Indian folk wisdom are diamonds, pearls, sapphires, rubies and emeralds (which tells you that you should take ancient wisdom with a pinch of salt, as pearls are organic after all, oh but they are precious, ah well).

There are other major things that come in fives, too. The five elements, the five colours, the five virgins (I refuse to talk further about them), the five senses of body and mind, the five lives, the five divisions of almanacs, the five metals… you get the drift.

I agreed with my husband, though. But when tagged to do anything that added up to five, I can count that high, thank you very much, my first thought is always Tyagaraja. The five brilliant encyclopaedic kritis in the five ghana ragas, the very definitions of how to render and develop them. True, I only learnt one of the five formally from a teacher. The Sri, endarO mahaanubhaavulu, but I picked up the others. There are notations in various books, there are renditions by artists, and there are recordings of the Aradhana Festival group singing to follow. You can learn them easy. I used Balamurali as my guide, but I never got around to learning VaraaLi. It always seemed beyond me.

But this is different. The big shot blogger tagged me to a five-fold post.

The rules of the tag are as follows. Post 5 links to 5 of your previously written posts. The posts have to relate to the 5 key words given (family, friend, yourself, your love, anything you like). Tag 5 other friends to do this meme. Try to tag at least 2 new acquaintances (if not, your current blog buddies will do) so that you get to know them each a little bit better.

Now this is an invitation to go through my archives, wallow in my blog and inflict my favourites on poor unsuspecting readers all over again. Who am I to refuse?

Family: in my career of two years of blogging, I must have mentioned my family once or twice. I don’t make a big deal about them like mommy bloggers or other personal bloggers, but I do talk about my family, because that defines me too. This post of mine gives an insight into that.

Friends: I did talk about the art of making friends, the effort of keeping them, and the heartache of losing them too. I was a victim of parental disapproval when it came to making friends in school or college, and it tainted me. But I did make friends, and odd sort of friends, too.

Yourself: this was a toughie. The one time I presented myself naked and defenseless was when I wrote this post. It is the most honest thing I wrote.

Your love: ah, here I get an embarrassment of riches in choice, but I confine myself to just two posts. I once bragged that Araucaria loved me. He read the post and wrote and told me he did, so there. Though I did not have many readers then, or any feedback, I rather like this post I did about my career of reading.

Anything you like: see, asking for it, he was. But since I am a nice and harmless middle-aged person, I am confining myself to giving you links to some posts that I really enjoyed writing. I hated it when broadband died and so I moaned about it. I used to froth at the mouth about trees and environment too. My first ever rant on the blog was a major moment, too; people gaped in astonishment that nice Missus Em can be nasty, but there were times when I surpassed myself.

You say that is ten? I said I could count up to five reliably. After that, it gets murky. So sue me.


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Let's Spend The Night Together

We met for coffee and lunch
To talk and be together
We met in happy circumstance
And savoured each other.

Words flow easy, don't they,
And intimacy seems right
Perhaps I can lower my guard
Enough, anything can happen, it might.

Let us spend the night together,
See what we sow and what we reap
I could trust you enough to climax
And next to you, I might even fall asleep.


Friday, February 01, 2008

Perils of mental illness in New Zealand

There is a reason why I cherish my husband. On a bleak day when I am feeling particularly miserable, he can make me laugh. This is part of a mail he forwarded.

Three friends from three far-flung corners of the globe corresponding and discussing, as senior citizens are wont to, ailments. Two of the friends have ailing wives undergoing treatment. The third had a few things to say:

One nasty thought that occurs to me is cost -- do you (all) have insurance to cover these things? As I commented before, the NZ health service is perhaps in rather better shape than the UK one, partly because you pay for visits to the doctor and for (part of the cost of) prescriptions, and also because there are good private hospitals that you can choose to go to for lesser ailments without any adverse consequences for your public entitlement; but it is underfunded for its purpose and there are consequent scandals. For instance, at the moment there is no paediatric oncologist in Wellington.

In Dunedin a few years ago, they hired, presumably in desperation, as head of psychiatry a fellow from South Africa who turned out later (if I remember correctly) to have murdered his wife; then, once here, he murdered her replacement. Then his son, also a psychiatrist I think, was found guilty of topping his spouse back in SA. I suppose it could be argued that they had hands-on experience of mental illness. There was also the supposedly Polish female psychiatrist (the name she was using was Linda Astor, not very Polish) who was employed here (in Lower Hutt, actually) and turned out -- after issuing a report that disastrously released some psychopath from detention -- to be neither a qualified psychiatrist nor female, but rather a former medical student, Polish to be sure, who is, as we now say, "transgender", and whose original name was quite different.

I sincerely hope none of my readers will need the services of a shrink while visiting or living in New Zealand.


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