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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Recipe for Writing a Popular Book


1 great idea
Assorted characters
2 teaspoons of scintillating dialogue
A pinch of Stephen Hing
Salt and pepper to taste


Great idea ko Bar-bar Cartland ke through sieve karen until only the finest go through. Mix assorted characters into the idea, keep adding water until Charles Thickens. Knead until soft. Make dough balls and use J K Rolling pin to flatten into 3-inch pancakes.

Itne mein dialogue ko Arthur Conan mein Doyle ke boil karen. When liquid is reduced to half original quantity, Aur-thoda Hailey milaayen aur acchhi tarah se stir kar lein.

Brush dialogue over pancakes and cook over Ian Flaming fire until brown on top. Serve hot.

Goes best with Jeffrey Aachar and fresh Agatha Mishti from Kolkata.

Serves any number.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Religion mini-HOWTO

Once upon a time...

In the village of Kishangarh on the banks of the Yamuna River lived two very different people, let us call them Astik Ram and Nastik Ram. As his name would suggest, Astik Ram was a devout believer in all the scriptures and followed all religious teachings to the letter. There was not a fast that he did not keep, nor did there exist a deity whom he neglected to worship. Neat, clean and moderate in person, habit and speech, he was a model of correctness, and the whole village used to point to him with pride as an example to the world on how to live a correct life.

The other gentleman -- wait, that's too strong a word -- the other person in our story, Mr Nastik Ram, was a bit of a contrast to Astik Ram. Vile of tongue and ugly to look at, he lived a fairly debauched life. No one really liked him much, which suited him since he was quite content to eke out his solitary existence growing his crops, smoking ganja and carousing with itinerant nautch girls in his spare time.

Astik Ram could be seen at the ghat of the Yamuna each morning before sun-up, bathing himself in the holy river, summer or winter. Having performed his bath, he would collect a stone from the river bed, wash it and place it on a rock. Then he would do a complete puja to this Shivling (symbol of Shiva, the mightiest god of the Hindus): wash it with milk and honey, adorn it with a tilak, honour it with flower petals, offer it fruit, sweets and money, chant holy verses and invoke blessings for all living creatures.

Nastik Ram found out about this quite by accident -- he had been out drinking with some of his more unsavoury friends one night and was so high that he couldn't find his way home. He passed out in a thicket near the Yamuna, and was only awakened by the sound of Astik Ram's chanting in the morning. Nursing a massive hangover, he was about to go and tell the pious one to shut up and let him sleep when his curiosity got the better of him. He watched in amazement as Astik Ram performed his morning rituals, and when Astik Ram had left, went over and kicked the metaphorical Shivling back into the river, ate the fruit and sweets, pocketed the money and went merrily on his way.

From that day on this became a regular episode. Each morning, when Astik Ram came to perform his puja, Nastik Ram would be waiting for him in a tree near the bank of the Yamuna River. He would doze or watch while Astik Ram did the rituals, and once Astik Ram had left, he would climb down, desecrate the puja, eat whatever had been offered to Shiva, pocket the offered money and be on his way.

This continued, until one year the gods chose to send down an extra-heavy monsoon. The rain wouldn't stop, and the normally placid Yamuna turned into an angry, destructive beast with a life of its own. It snarled and roared on its way to meet its sister; whole villages were washed away by its fury, and the people of Kishangarh huddled in their huts, praying that they and their crops and livestock would be spared.

When Astik Ram arose in the morning to go to the ghat, his wife was aghast. "Where are you going, my Swami?" she asked.

"To the ghat to do puja", he replied.

"With the river in this state? Forget the ghat, you won't reach anywhere within a 100 metres of the river."

"But I have to do puja! Let me try at least", and saying this Astik Ram stepped out of the house. He hadn't gone very far when he realised the correctness of his wife's concern: the river water had nearly come up to the village, soon he was floundering in a torrent up to his waist, and each step renewed afresh the very real chance of his being completely washed away. He stopped, pondered for a minute, and with a heavy heart returned home. "Today I will do the puja in our garden", he told his wife, who immediately busied herself cooking choice savouries to offer the Gods.

What of Nastik Ram? Not knowing of Astik Ram's change of heart, he was on his way to the ghat as usual. Nearly washed away by the torrent many times, bruised from the logs that the river kept belabouring him with and in mortal fear of his life, he somehow made it to his favourite tree and huddled there, shivering in the cold and hoping Astik Ram would come and do his business soon so that he could get out of this hell and back to his warm hut.

An hour passed.

Many more hours passed.

Eventually he realised that Astik Ram wasn't coming that day, and decided to return home. Now he was faced with a fresh problem; in the hours he had spent on the tree, the river had grown even more violent and would now be over his head if he descended from the tree. Nastik Ram was a reasonably good swimmer, but only a suicidal madman would have tried making any sort of headway in that manic current.

He sat in the tree all day, cold and miserable and wondering if he would ever make it back home again. "I should have chosen a fruit tree instead of this peepal to sit in", he thought as his stomach kept growling from hunger. When the evening approached and the river showed no sign of receding, he started preparing for the night, lashing flexible branches together to make a rude cradle that would prevent him from falling off even if he slept.

Sleep wasn't easy to come by, but after tossing and turning and cursing his luck for what seemed like hours, he eventually did manage to doze off in the early hours of the morning. It seemed that he had barely closed his eyes when he was rudely awakened by a loud noise. Bleary-eyed, he looked up and saw a luminous being sitting facing him in the tree. It looked like a man (if men can be ten feet tall and blue in colour) and seemed to be speaking to him in a voice like thunder.

"Awake!" said the being.

"What the f**k are you doing, waking me up in the middle of the night?" asked Nastik Ram, "Go away and leave me alone."

He turned over to try to fall asleep again, but the luminous being was insistent.


"Listen dude, I don't know who you are and whether you make a practice of ruining peoples' sleep, but we'll discuss that in the morning. Right now I just want to catch some sleep and forget this cold and hunger, we'll have a long chat about your problems over a drink and this great ganja I got from Varanasi later, OK?"


"Oh what the hell, I won't be able to sleep now anyway. Talk, what do you want?" asked Nastik Ram as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.

"I am Shiva. Ask me a boon," said Mahadeva.

"Huh? First of all, I don't believe you exist. And even if you did, why would you want to grant me any boons?"

"You are my true follower. Ask a boon and it shall be granted," said Shiva.

"Nono, you've got it all wrong! I don't follow you or anyone, there's been some mistake!"

Mahadeva smiled.

"Of all those who follow me, you are the most diligent in your practice. Ask me a boon", He reiterated.

Nastik Ram was beginning to see faint glimmerings of understanding now. "Dude, you have it all wrong. The man who practices your religion is Astik Ram, he's the one you want. See that hill over there? If you go towards that you will come to a wheat field. Turn left after the field and then turn left again when you come to the cowshed, he lives..."

Shiva smiled again.

"I do not make mistakes, my child. I am here to grant you a boon. Ask and whatever you want will be yours."

"But why me? Assuming for a moment that you're Shiva, don't you know that I crap on your symbol, eat your food and steal your money? And yet to want to give me a boon... something doesn't seem right here," Astik Ram insisted.

"What you believe is not important, only your consistency and determination can win me over," explained Mahadeva, "The man who would risk his life and undergo immense hardship rather than abandon his path is my only true follower."

He smiled again.

"Ask me a boon."

And Nastik Ram did, but that's another story.

New Delhi
March 2010

I can't remember whom I heard this story from some years back. If anyone knows the origin please contact me at (at) gmail (dot) com .

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Murali lived on the edge of the forest with his Father and Mother. Murali's Father was a woodcutter; he would go into the forest every day and cut wood, which he would sell in the nearby village and earn himself a few Rupees while Murali's Mother stayed at home and spent her whole day cooking, doing housework and tending to their little vegetable garden beside the hut.

Murali sometimes accompanied his Father into the forest, but he would soon grow tired of stacking wood and then he would run off to play with his friends.

And what friends! The bear taught him how to get honey out of the busiest hive and the tiger taught him how to walk so stealthily that even a blade of grass wouldn't move under his feet. The deer raced him until he could run fast as the wind and the rabbit taught him how to find food under the ground, while the eagle himself showed Murali how to recognise one among thousands with a single look.

This was Murali's school and his club, and he was happiest when he was with his friends in the forest, running and leaping, eating and climbing, wrestling and mock fighting them.

When he was home, however, Mother made him do chores. "Get water from the well, Murali". "Sweep away the ashes of the old fire Murali dear, I have to make a fresh one for cooking". "Murali my son, get mud from the river bank to put on the walls of the hut". Murali hated doing work around the house, and kept wishing he could be with his friends forever.

One day, when he was about 12, Murali decided to leave home and stay in the forest forever. After breakfast, he ran off immediately afterwards so his Mother couldn't catch him and give him chores to do. When he didn't come home that night his parents were worried and upset. Father wanted to go into the forest and find him and maybe give him a spanking, but Mother said, "Our Murali is a big boy now, let him do as he pleases. After all, he doesn't owe us anything." Though Father wasn't convinced, Mother was patient, and slowly Father too began to agree that they didn't own Murali and he could live his life as he chose.

In the meantime, Murali was having a delightful time. The monkeys and the birds brought him fruit every morning and evening and the wild goats gave him milk to drink. He rode the river on the crocodile's back. He climbed the mountains with the eagle's help. When it was cold he would cuddle up with the tiger's cubs at night, and wrestle them in the morning. Each day was more fun than the last, and so the years passed.

One morning Murali awoke and thought, "Today is the day the hippo promised to teach me how to stay under water!" A quick breakfast of fresh fish and papaya fruit, and he was hurrying off to the river, eager to learn so he could hide under water and tickle the crocodiles tummies when they weren't expecting it (you did know that crocodile tummies are very ticklish, didn't you?) But he heard moaning as passed the bamboo thicket. When he stopped and looked, he found the tiger's mother lying inside with her son nervously pacing up and down. She had been badly injured by porcupine quills. "The wounds have become infected and there is not much hope for her now", sadly the tiger said. Murali couldn't bear her pain, and asked the tiger what he should do. "There is nothing anyone can do, my friend", the tiger replied, "We just have to be with her until the end."

Murali walked despondently back to the hollow tree which was his house in the forest. The sun which had been shining so brightly only minutes back become pale. The sky and the trees lost their colour, and going to the hippo now was inconceivable with the sound of the tiger's mother still in his ears. "Let me try and sleep and forget for a while, at least", he thought.

But sleep didn't come. Faint and muted, he could still hear tiger's mother living out her last breaths, and each moan hurt him as if someone jabbed a thorn into his side. He placed flat stones on his ears, but they fell off whenever he moved his head. Then he tied vines and creepers to keep the stones in place, and eventually he made himself stone muffs which, though uncomfortable, stayed in place and blocked his ears.

This, Murali discovered over the next few days, was one way to not get hurt.

When Murali fell, he tied soft sandstones around his legs so his knees wouldn't get bruised.

When he had to get honey from the bees he tied stones around his arms and chest so the bees couldn't sting him.

When he ate a bitter berry he blocked his mouth so he would not have to taste anything nasty.

When the eagle was caught in a storm and injured, Murali tied stones on his eyes so he wouldn't have to see his friend's distress at not being able to fly.

Blind, deaf and dumb, Murali wandered through the forest. He blundered into trees but he didn't care because it didn't hurt him. His friends tried to talk to him, but he couldn't see or hear them anymore. He climbed a hill without knowing, and since he couldn't see his way, he fell off the path into a ravine.

Murali was badly hurt in the fall. The stones tied to his mouth wouldn't let him cry out, and the only sound that he could make was a faint "Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmm".

Many miles away, in their hut, Murali's Mother was about to serve dinner to Father. The daal was hot, and she was rolling out the dough for the first roti when she stopped. "Did you hear something?" she asked Father. "No, what?" asked Father, who was hungry and wanted to eat.

"It sounds like Murali", said Mother.

Father too strained his ears, but he couldn't hear anything. "Must be the wind, it's getting stormy.", he said.

"I clearly heard my son calling." Mother insisted.

"Arrey bhai, he has been gone so many years, how can you hear him calling now? If he were that near, wouldn't he come to us?"

"I don't know, but my son is calling me." With that, Mother left the daal to cool and the roti dough unrolled, and ran out of the house.

As she headed where she thought the sound came from, she met the tiger. "Have you seen my Murali?", she asked, but the tiger had not seen his friend in days. Nor had the crocodile, when she met him at the stream, nor the monkey who offered her bananas as she was passing. But her hearing was sharp and her love for Murali guided her to where her son lay, armoured with stones, hurt and bleeding.

Even though Mother couldn't see his face, she knew Murali at once. She sat down on the ground and gently put his head on her lap and then, for the first time since he had left home, she cried for him. "My cherished one, what have you done to yourself?" she said as her tears dropped down her face and onto her child.

And with each tear, a stone melted away and a hurt healed.

New Delhi
March 2010

Thanks to Ravi Dewan for insightful critique and editing.