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POWERED BY GLOBAL ADJUSTMENTS

January 2018 Volume 8, Issue 11

30 The Dak Times Live On

A look at the history of India’s postal service

54 Reviving,

Reliving Urdu Celebrate the many facets of Urdu at the Jashn-e-Rekhta

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Editor-in-Chief Ranjini Manian

Dear Readers,

Stop press! As this issue of Culturama went to print we had an amazing opportunity. The worldrenowned, well-trained Indian Army created history. And gave us a small part in it. Colonel S. Ashok from the Officers Training Academy; had us interact with the first ever all-woman batch of Military and Air Force officers they were training from Afghanistan. And our role was to spread happiness sans orders. Global Adjustments Foundation’s programme for the 20 Afghani women officers was a session aimed at enhancing gender and emotional intelligence. Innovatively titled ‘AK47 for the Mind’, the programme’s key elements were contained within this acronym: A – Awareness of gender intelligent communication K – Key to happiness in your own pocket 4 – 4 ways to do this: meditation, mindfulness, sense training and hard selfless work. 7 – 7 days of the week to practice it The immersive workshop conducted in my ‘Mumbai Hindi’ translated into ‘Dari’ by Lieutenant Hasina – was not lost in translation. We realised that worldwide, women need the same self-esteem building life education. Our Afghani participants were open, friendly and eager to learn stress reduction. Lieutenant Marwah called it ‘fantastic’ and requested a download of the ‘Allah kaho’ song we had used for meditative art therapy. A testimony to India’s soft power! Lieutenant Adalah said the programme made her ‘very happy, as she learnt so much about women–men communication.’ Women who looked unlike any we had hitherto run workshops for, surprised us with familiar responses – claps, laughter and dance, as part of the stress-free, self-confidence enhancing activities. They meditated with us and took notes on the science behind it, too. It was an amazing opportunity to live up to our Defense Minister, Srimati Nirmala Sitaraman’s expectations. I had the privilege of listening to her recently at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, India. She told John Chambers of Cisco and Ms Ivanka Trump that we Indian women were already first, giving prosperity to all, and I felt as though this session was our silent tribute to her. Celebrating India – Afghanistan friendship. Look forward to spreading woman cheer and Indian culture plentifully in 2018!

Managing Editor Yamini Vasudevan Creative Head Prem Kumar Graphic Designer Ankita Santhosh VP Finance V Ramkumar Circulation P Devaraj Advertising Chennai Shobana Sairaj Bengaluru Meera Roy Delhi/NCR Ruchika Srivastava Mumbai/Pune Ashish Chaulkar

To subscribe to this magazine, e-mail info@globaladjustments.com or access it online at www.globaladjustments.com Chennai (Headquarters) 5, 3rd Main Road, R A Puram, Chennai – 600028 Telefax +91-44-24617902 E-mail culturama@globaladjustments.com Bengaluru No.: A2, SPL Habitat, No.138, Gangadhar Chetty Road, Ulsoor, Bengaluru – 560043. Tel +91-80-41267152, E-mail culturamablr@globaladjustments.com Delhi-NCR Level 4, Augusta Point, Golf Course Road, Sector 53, Gurgaon 122002, Haryana Mobile +91 124 435 4224 E-mail del@globaladjustments.com Mumbai #1102, 11th floor, Peninsula Business Park, Tower B, SB Road, Lower Parel, Mumbai – 400013 Tel +91-22-66879366 E-mail mum@globaladjustments.com Published and owned by Ranjini Manian at #5, 3rd Main Road, Raja Annamalai Puram, Chennai – 600028, and printed by K Srinivasan of Srikals Graphics Pvt Ltd at #5, Balaji Nagar, 1st Street, Ekkattuthangal, Chennai – 600032 Disclaimer Views and opinions expressed by writers do not necessarily reflect the publisher’s or the magazine’s.

Editor-in-Chief | globalindian@globaladjustments.com


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Cover Image The cover image represents the history of the Indian Postal Service - a vast organisation that has proven to be the lifeline of the country. The cover images were generously provided by Mr. Steve Borgia, Chairman & Managing Director of INDeco Leisure Hotels, from his book, Pigeons to Post.

Advisory Board Members N. Ram is an award-winning journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of The Hindu. He is Director of Kasturi & Sons Limited, publishers of The Hindu. Suzanne McNeill lived in India for seven years before returning to Scotland. She is a freelance writer and graphic designer. Liz Neisloss is a veteran journalist and writer who has worked for CNN based from Singapore, Chennai and at the United Nations in New York. She is now based in Mumbai. G. Venket Ram is an acclaimed photographer and the creative mind behind many a Culturama issue. www.gvenketram.com Annelize Booysen is a business consultant and social entrepreneur. She lived in Asia for more than a decade, which included three years in India. She is currently based in the United States. Namita Jain, founder of Jaldi Fit, is a leading fitness guru and a businesswoman who helms Kishco, a world-class cutlery brand.

Contributors Susan Philip is a freelance writer based in Chennai, and the editorial coordinator of Culturama’s various coffee table books. Eknath Easwaran (1910–1999) was a spiritual teacher, author and interpreter of Indian literature. In 1961, he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation and Nilgiri Press in California. Devdutt Pattanaik is the Chief Belief Officer of the Future Group and a writer and illustrator of several books on Indian mythology. www.devdutt.com Janani Nagarajan is a marketing professional with unique technology experience, and she builds online presence and reputation for leading brands. Janani heads marketing at Global Adjustments.

Letters to the Editor Dear Editor

Under the SMS column in the November issue, the write-up on the word ‘hazaar’ (thousand) was outstanding. The writer has cited many meanings and phrases and I came to know the meaning of ‘hazaar people’, which I was unaware of earlier. After reading it, I took a stroll down memory lane, and was reminded of the opening lines of a gazal (poem) by Mirza Ghalib, a prominent Urdu and Persian poet. He says in a very philosophical manner: Hazaaron khwahishen aisi ke har khwahish pe dam nikle Bohat niklay mere armaan, lekin phir bhi kam nikle (‘I have a thousand desires, all desires worth dying for though many of my desires were fulfilled, majority remained unfulfilled’.) R.K. Bhuwalka, Mumbai

Dear Editor,

The Culturama team and you have been working very hard over the years to awaken those coming to India – as well as your fellow countrymen and women of the wisdom and richness in your cultural history. I wish many more people would sink their curiosity roots deep into the wisdom soil of the rishis! Charles Savage

Dear Editor,

I was browsing through one of the editions of Culturama and really liked it. Congratulations on how the magazine has morphed into a top-class offering. Super! Ravi Katari

culturama – Subscribe Now! Get your copy of Culturama as a hard copy or as an e-magazine - visit www.culturama.in to subscribe For other enquiries, e-mail us at culturama@globaladjustments.com or call us on +91-44-2461 7902


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Contents Regulars

30 Feature

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From pigeons to the neighbourhood postman – a look at the history of India’s postal service.

India’s Culture 8

Short Message Service

Short, engaging snippets of Indian culture.

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India in Symbols

There is more than one New Year in India – and as many ways to mark it.

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Festivals of India

The onset of another year and the upcoming harvest is marked by celebrations across the country.

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India Impressions

Celebrate the many facets of Urdu at the Jashn-e-Rekhta.

Journeys Into India

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Hit The Road

Travel to the southern tip of India – and catch a glimpse of the mythical bridge mentioned in the Ramayana.

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Holistic Living

When we forgive others, we give ourselves a special gift.

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Myth & Mythology

Are stories like that of Cinderella and her Indian counterparts actually designed to cope with patriarchy?

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In Focus

We talk to Sri M about what spirituality means in the modern-day world.

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Diary

Who, what, where and how – all things that made news in 2017.

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Spotlight

A look at the upcoming Republic Day celebrations.

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At GA Foundation

A look at the many ways in which GA Foundation has empowered 17,000 women in the past year.

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Aikya 2018

Music has the power to bring people together from across all forms of boundaries – and we celebrate music in all its glory at the annual Aikya concert.

Relocations and Property 66

Space and the City

Property listings in Chennai.


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SMS by Suzanne McNeill

Short cultural snippets for an easily digestible India

Art/textile/craft: Ahimsa Silk India is the largest consumer of silk in the world, as well the world’s second largest producer of the luxury fabric. However, the traditional process of manufacturing silk used in India and elsewhere has long been criticised by animal welfare activists, for the silk fibre is harvested from the cocoon of the silkworm by dissolving the cocoons in boiling water about ten days before the larvae hatch into moths. Inspired by Hinduism’s universal principle of ahimsa, which translates as ‘non-killing’ or ‘non-violence’, a government official from Andhra Pradesh called Kusuma Rajaiah has come up with a technique that spares the life of the silkworm. The moths are allowed to emerge from their cocoons naturally, before the fibres are extracted. His eco-friendly technique adds many days to the process and yields less fibre, so the cost is inflated to about twice the price of normal silk. At present, ahimsa silk serves a niche market, but the market is growing for the sustainable technique with its non-cruelty appeal, both in India and in the United States and Europe. Ahimsa silk products are spun on handlooms by local weavers. The silk does not have the lustre of regular silk but is softer and comfortable to wear, is wrinkle-free and has a better draping quality.

Words: Chup! ‘Chup!’ is an exclamation or command understood across India that means ‘be quiet!’ or ‘shut up’. A more polite form is chuppray, which conflates chup with re, the polite form of the informal address ‘dude’ or ‘man’. It must derive from the Hindi verb chupna, meaning to be concealed or hidden, or to disappear, and there are many similar words associated with these connotations: chuppa rustom meaning ‘dark horse’ is one example. Chup was adopted into British army slang in the late 19th century: ‘Keep chup!’ meant ‘keep quiet’, and even now a website of American military slang lists ‘Chup Raho!’ as an insult meaning ‘shut up!’ A Hindi speaker may enquire, ‘Kyu chup hai tum?’ (Why are you silent?)


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Name: Pandit Birju Maharaj Brijmohan Mishra, called Birju, is a leading exponent and choreographer of the KalkaBindadin style of Kathak dance that is unique to Lucknow, as well as a Hindustani classical musician and vocalist. He is described as ‘Kathak Personified’, a maestro to whom dance means total concentration and surrender to Krishna, the Lord of Dance. But he is also a modernist, whose choreography is described as bold, intellectual and refreshing. Birju was born in 1938 in Lucknow into the Maharaj family. The family is legendary in the world of Kathak, the classical dance form that communicates stories (traditionally the great epics) through dance, songs and music. As a child, Birju secretly watched his father teaching, and so when his time came to be taught, he delighted his father by already knowing the essential compositions and expressions that underlie Kathak. His uncles, both celebrated dancers, helped with his training and he gave his first recital aged seven. The death of his father when Birju was just nine left the family struggling until they moved to Delhi; and, aged 13, Birju began teaching alongside his uncles, creating his own style that combined the vigorous dance of one and the grace of the other. He resisted moving with his uncles to Bombay to be closer to Bollywood, wanting to concentrate on pure Kathak, but later in life did choreograph dance sequences for films, including Shatranj Ke Khilari, Devdas and Vishwaroopam. He taught at institutions established by India’s National Academy for Music, Dance and Drama until his retirement in 1998, after which he opened his own dance school, Kalashram, which runs an annual Kathak contest. He also travelled extensively, performing at festivals as well as lecturing around the world including in the United States, Europe, Russia and Japan. Birju still performs at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the official home of India’s President, at special functions. Pandit Birju Maharaj is the recipient of many accolades over his career, most recently from Filmfare Awards and Tamil Nadu State Film Award for choreography in 2012, 2016, and 2017.

Food and drink: Bottle Masala The East Indians are a small Catholic community, primarily located along the coastal districts of Mumbai, and their cuisine fuses Goan, Maharashtrian and Portuguese food. Synonymous with East Indian cuisine is ‘Bottle Masala’, a kitchen staple that is used to flavour all East Indian dishes, whether vegetable, fish or meat. Red-orange in colour, it is a rich and earthy blend of up to 30 spices and includes red chillies, cumin, coriander seeds, turmeric, pepper, sesame, poppy, mustard, cloves, cinnamon, fenugreek and star anise, traditionally laid out to dry in the sun and then pounded to a fine powder by hand. The masala is stored in recycled bottles for use throughout the year. Every family has its own special blend and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. It is said that the full recipe is never revealed – one ingredient is always left out on purpose!


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In Focus by Yamini Vasudevan

A Modern-Day Mystic What does a spiritual aspirant in today’s world need? Openness to learning, humility and a true desire to look beyond this life, says spiritual teacher Sri M


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When he was 19, Sri M left home and headed for the Himalayas in search of his guru, whom he found after an arduous journey. He was christened ‘Madhukar’ by his guru; with time, the name ‘M’ stuck on

When I started writing this article, I was tempted to title it ‘The Reluctant Messiah’ because that is the impression Sri M gives. He is genial but not keen on delving into his mystical experiences described in his autobiographies, which run the gamut from unbelievable to fantastical. Born as Mumtaz Ali in 1949 in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, Sri M was drawn to spirituality and mysticism from a very early age. He met his guru or teacher, Maheshwarnath Babaji, at the age of 9 in his home’s backyard for the first time. Even though the meeting lasted barely a few minutes, it kindled in him a desire to ‘break free’ and go in search of the esoteric. When he was 19, he left home and headed for the Himalayas in search of his guru, whom he found after an arduous journey. He was christened ‘Madhukar’ by his guru; with time, the name ‘M’ stuck on. His autobiography, Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography, and its sequel, The Journey Continues, detail his first-hand experiences of meeting saints and seekers from different orders, seeing beings from other worlds and of mystical experiences that most people have only heard of. He says that he wrote the autobiographies on the instruction of his guru, and adds the caveat that some people may think he has gone crazy.

Later, he was instructed by his guru to get married and live a domestic life without any outward show of his capabilities. The Satsang Foundation, which he founded, runs educational institutions in rural areas and facilitates talks on the scriptures and inter-faith dialogues. One of its recent initiatives was the ‘Walk of Hope’, a 15-month-long walk from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, led by Sri M, across 11 states in 2015 and 2016 to spread the message of peace, harmony and tolerance. Ultimately, Sri M insists that his larger message is that leading a regular life is no barrier to spiritual advancement; and that if he can do it, so can everyone else. Here are some excerpts from our conversation. You are called the ‘modern-day mystic’. Do you ascribe to it? Yeah, some people say that. I live in the modern world, and I am mystically inclined, so I think you could put the two together. I do not have any paraphernalia like the usual mystics. When I go abroad, I wear pants and tee-shirt. It is probably difficult to make out, but I cannot deny my inner mystical experience. And, I also believe that other people – especially the young – can be connected to India’s ancient culture without a change in outer appearance.


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Do some people say they are unable to accept you are a mystic because you are not clad in saffron or sporting other paraphernalia? In ancient times, all sorts of people were mystics. The Upanishads and other scriptures were given by rishis who were married and had families. Some lived in the forest. Some like Janaka were kings. I think, later on, too much stress was put on sanyas (renunciation). I am not against sanyas – it is a very high goal – but not everybody can aspire to it. It is better not to go into it at all than going into it half-heartedly. So, I think we should get back [to how it was]. What I am trying to do is this: With modern clothes, I am trying to bring back [our] ancient lifestyle. In fact, in the Bhagavad Gita, the main thrust is that a sanyasi is not one who gives up his activities. He is one who does his work but is able to maintain his equilibrium and tranquillity without getting caught up in ups and downs. This is what I am trying to [put forth]. Maybe people who are too traditional may not understand this. Your spiritual journey started when you were eight but you set out from home when you were 19… I had to get out of my moorings that I had till that time, and change to a different location, a different set-up. This happened at the age of 19. What was your family’s reaction when you told them you were heading for the Himalayas? I didn’t tell them; I ran away. If I had told them, they would have tried to hold me back. So, one fine day, I went off. For three years, I didn’t have any contact with them. I was their only son, and the oldest. They probably thought I was dead. My first contact with my family after leaving them was initiated by a great monk whom I was serving. He asked, ‘Have you written to your mother that you are here?’ That was it. I wrote and my father landed up there on the third day to take me home. I told my master, and he said, ‘Yes, I know. Let it be. Go back.’ You have talked about spiritually advanced people around us who are so quiet they are like the ‘grass that we walk on’. Why would they remain hidden? That is because they have another function – it is to prepare people like me to go out and talk or do other things. One such being, living quietly, can produce many people who go out. So, that [coming out and spreading the message] is not their job; it is our job. My master was almost unknown; he was recognised in the mystics’ circle, but he was not well known in

general. But he has put me out, and I am doing some work. So, it is not as if they are not doing any work; they are working from the background. Many of us are fascinated by the concept of miracles being performed or having things manifested, and want more of that. Why are we unable to move beyond it? Because human nature is to expect something miraculous. Most people are more concerned about this life; very few are concerned about anything beyond this life. So, when they see something [unusual] happening, they get stuck in that. There is no other explanation. Most people who come don’t ask how to move further on the spiritual path. They say that they are stuck in a job without any promotion and don’t know what to do; they are married for many years and still don’t have a child. Especially in India, if you say you are a spiritual person, these are some of the first things they will ask about. There are very few people who are seriously spiritually inclined – you cannot deny their presence. And you cannot blame the others as well. It is human nature that when they see a source, they try to tap into that. I don’t mind even that, as long as at some point, they leave it there and go further.


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person carefully under all circumstances. If the person seems to be balanced and steady at all times, without any negative tendencies, then it is time for you to start looking closely at him/her. Give it some time. Move with the person. Don’t look too much at the externals; look at his/her genuineness. There is a fine line between a spiritual experience and something that our mind hypes up. Are we capable of identifying which is which? I think, yes. The most important thing is to watch yourself. It is not about whether you are having visions. Of course, as you go deeper into the layers of your consciousness, you may have some visions, but that is not the key. The most important thing is: Am I becoming less self-centred? Have I concern for other beings? Am I able to remain tranquil under all circumstances? If this is not happening, then we are not genuinely going to the core of our consciousness. Is it a given that every soul who comes into this sphere is destined to evolve? Hundred per cent [yes]. I personally believe this, and it is my understanding also that at some point or other, you are going to have to move on. Some people look at the world around them and decide, ‘I am in a cage – I need to get out as soon as possible’. Others may have only an inkling of such thoughts. That is okay; we should at least plant the seed. How much of real-life relevance do the Ramayana and Mahabharata have for us? Everybody cannot read the Vedanta or Upanishads, so the epics are used to interest people and also instruct them. I think a good knowledge of our epics – not as a story, but as the roots of our culture – is important. It should be introduced in schools. While the Western system of education has its advantages, there has been a tendency to ignore the epics. The best way to introduce the epics is not as religious texts, but in the same way as you would treat, say, Shakespeare. Many of our young people who come from English-medium schools know Shakespeare but they do not know the Mahabharata! You would say Ramayana and Mahabharata are spiritual texts; but then, how many of them know Kalidas? His works have nothing to do with religion. In recent times, we have seen a lot of gurus and spiritual organisations coming up. How does a seeker find who is worth following? To start with, if there is too much propaganda, get out of there. Second, find out if the person wants to give you something or take something from you. Third, watch the

It may feel very nice when we enjoy bhajans, but are we changing? Some people may work themselves into a frenzy during kirtans; once the kirtans are over and they come out of it, they may be worse off than before! What is the point then? What are some qualities we need to rid ourselves of when we intend to go on the spiritual path? To move forward, we have to first realise that we are incomplete. And that means humility – to know this is where I stand. Anger and shame are difficult to shed. Sometimes, when you have gotten rid of everything else, these two become stronger! So, one has to be careful. To control and not show your anger is all right, but the roots are still there. It goes only when you realise that what it is in me is also in everyone else – we are all the same. So, I shouldn’t get angry with myself. There is a lot of interest in India’s spiritual offerings from other parts of the world. Are we aware of, and using, the treasures contained in this land? I don’t think we are [fully] using what is available to us. We have so many resources in our country, and I don’t know how many people are really aware of this. However, I think awareness is growing. This is mainly because we have the tendency to respect anything that a foreigner respects. So when it becomes popular in the West, we say that it must be great. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa once commented about a man who asked to be taught the Bhagavad Gita: ‘For three years, I have been telling him to read the Gita. Now, some Englishman must have told him that the Gita is a good book, so he wants to read it!’

To watch the full interview, visit https://youtu.be/H_8zv4oalNU.


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Diary by Janani Nagarajan

Looking Back At January

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Millions of people worldwide join the Women’s March in response to the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States; 420 marches were reported in the United States and 168 in other countries, which led it to becoming the largest single-day protest in American history and the largest worldwide protest in recent history.

March The Indian Navy’s oldest serving aircraft carrier INS Viraat is decommissioned after 30 years of service.

February

North Korea prompts international condemnation by test firing a ballistic missile across the Sea of Japan.

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2017

Before the sun set on 2016, India was declared as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. However, it was unlikely to be an easy ride as 2017 experienced its share of significant ups and downs, locally and internationally. Here are our pick of key events that shaped the world to date

06 June

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The United Nations warns that the world is facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II, with up to 20 million people at risk of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria.

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Dangal becomes the first Indian film to gross over Rs. 2,000 crore in all languages worldwide.

July

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The Goods and Services Tax (GST) – India’s biggest tax reform in 70 years of independence – is launched in India. (The GST Act was passed in the Lok Sabha on March 29, 2017, and came into effect from July 1, 2017.)


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July

12 Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian Women's cricket team, breaks the world record and becomes the first woman to score 6,000 ODI runs.

August

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Vishal Sikka resigns as the CEO of Infosys – one of India’s tech darlings, amid an ongoing clash between the company’s board of directors and the founder.

September

August Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh’s conviction in a rape case leads to violence by Dera Sacha Sauda’s followers in Punjab, Haryana, which leaves 38 dead and 300 injured.

Ram Nath Kovind wins the 2017 Indian presidential election with 65.65 per cent votes against Meira Kumar, the presidential candidate of the Opposition.

King Salman’s decree lifts the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia. Women will be able to get a driving licence without a male relative’s permission and drive without a male relative in the car.

October A deadly shooting unfolds in Las Vegas when Stephen Paddock opens fire on a crowd – 58 people are killed and 546 injured. The New York Times publishes a story detailing decades of allegations of sexual harassment against American film producer Harvey Weinstein.

A tense standoff between the Indian Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Himalayan territory in Dolam, part of Doklam region comes to an end.

September

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Nirmala Sitharaman becomes the second woman Defence Minister of India after Indira Gandhi.

India’s Carnatic Music Capital Chennai is amidst 64 cities from 44 countries that have been newly designated as ‘UNESCO Creative Cities’.

09 28

The Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) was inaugurated in the presence of the United States’ President’s Adviser, Ivanka Trump, and Prime Minister Modi. They called upon entrepreneurs to come, make in India.

December

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November

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Iraq formally declared its fight against The Islamic State over after three years of heavy combat.


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save the date(s) India in Symbols by Susan Philip

King Vikramaditya

India celebrates New Year not only on January 1 but at multiple times during the year – and each of these occasions is marked with particular customs and activities


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In a nutshell India, being a land of multi-ethnicity, celebrates New Year not only on January 1 as per the Gregorian calendar, but multiple times during the year, as dictated by diverse cultures in different geographic regions. A fairly widely referred-to document is the Vikram samvat Calendar, believed to have been popularised by King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. Another major document is the Hindu Vedic calendar known as panchangam. It records the phases of the moon and the positions of stars and planets through 12 months, and identifies auspicious times and days for various activities. And, over and above them all, there is a National Calendar. Whether it is region- or religion-specific, national or global, the New Year signals a fresh start, and is marked with particular customs and religious activity.

Vikram samvat calendar

Meaning and Deeper Meaning Although the actual dates may vary, many of the customs followed by various ethnic groups in India on New Year are similar in intent – drawing a line underneath the past, making a new start, wooing positive energy and warding off negative ones.

Vishukkani

Each ethnic group or region also has traditions which carry specific meaning. In Kerala, on the first day of Vishu, the first month on the Malayalam calendar, the matriarch of a Hindu household makes vishukkani – an arrangement of paddy sheaves, jewellery, a photo or idol of a divinity, and a mirror, among other things. She blindfolds other members of the family and leads them one by one to the arrangement so that it will be the first thing they lay eyes on in the new year – setting the tone for 12 months of prosperity and God’s grace. The New Year feast in other parts of South India includes a dish made of ingredients that contribute seven

The forms of celebration may vary, but they are all about marking a new start, wooing positive energy and warding off negative ones.

flavours – including the bitter neem and the sweet jaggery – symbolic of acceptance that the year ahead will be a judicious mix of experiences. On Gudi Padwa, the Maharashtrian New Year, a brightly coloured cloth is tied to a pole adorned with flowers, neem and mango leaves, and topped with an inverted copper pot. It is erected at doorways or positioned where it is in full public view. It symbolises victory and is also believed to ward off the evil eye. Fire and light stand for the removal of bad karma, and at Ladakh up in the snowy north of India, celebration of the festival of Losar (Lo is the local word for year, and sar

Photo: Pierre BENICHOU, France

A visit to the temple, mosque or church, wearing new clothes and indulging in a celebratory feast are common factors in diverse New Year celebrations in India. Hindus, in general, pay homage particularly to Lord Ganesh, Remover of Obstacles, and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.


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Pohela Boishakh

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for new) includes a procession carrying flaming torches. In West Bengal, as in other places, the rangoli – elaborate patterns made on the floor using mainly a paste of rice flour – forms an integral part of celebrations on Pohela Boishakh – the first day of the Bengali calendar. At the centre of the design, a pot of water is kept, decorated with the auspicious swastika symbol and mango leaves. It is believed to usher in prosperity. Throughout India, it is the custom for elders to give at least a token gift of money to the younger generation, symbolically wishing them a prosperous year ahead. The Stuff of Legends The story goes that Gandharvasena, a powerful King of Ujjain, abducted Sarasvati, the sister of a monk, who then enlisted the aid of the rival Saka King, Sahi, to rescue Sarasvati. Although they were outnumbered, Sahi’s Gudi-Padwa

The Mugal emperor Akbar drew up a timetable for payment of agrarian taxes based on the Islamic calendar, a solar-oriented one.

forces, with divine help, defeated Gandharvasena, who was banished into the forest, and was subsequently killed by a tiger. His son Vikramaditya grew up, and took back Ujjain from the Sakas. To commemorate the victory, he stared a new era called Vikrama Era, and a new calendar as well. The Vikram samvat calendar predates the Gregorian one by around 57 years. Scientific Substance During the reign of Emperor Akbar, a timetable for payment of agrarian taxes was drawn up based on the Islamic calendar, a solar-oriented one. However, the farmers found it hard because the due dates for taxes did not coincide with the harvest and their lunar calendar, which mirrored the agricultural cycle. So the Emperor ordered the calendar to be modified to take in both solar and lunar aspects.


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Losar celebrations

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However, multiple calendars continued to flourish. After Independence, when it became important to have a uniform calendar across the country, the first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, set up a committee to formulate one which superseded the various almanacs being followed in different places, and was, besides, accurate, scientific and secular. The Committee was headed by noted astrophysicist Meghnad Saha. What it came up with is also known as the ‘Saha Calendar’ and is used together with the Vikram samvat calendar and the Gregorian calendar for official purposes. Saying it in Verse

Nyepi celebrations in Indonesia

like dew on the tip of a leaf.”

by the Tamils – the tradition of elders gifting money to the younger members of their household. The Indonesian New Year, known as Nyepi, is celebrated according to the lunisolar calendar – an Indian influence. (Uniquely, though, Nyepi is celebrated in silence – there is none of the high decibel activities associated with most events in India).

– Rabindranath Tagore

A Last Word

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough. Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time

The Aikya factor Neighbouring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka are heavily influenced by the Indian ethos. The Vikram samvat is the official calendar of Nepal. In Sri Lanka, the New Year of the two major ethnic groups – the Tamils and the Sinhalese – fall on the same date. Kai visesham is practiced

Surya Samvednapushpayeh Deeptih Karunyagandhane, Labdhva Shubham Navvarshesmin Kuryatsarvasya mangalam. "As the sun gives light, sensibility brings compassion, flowers give pleasant fragrance, may the new year be auspicious!"


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kerala backwater bliss

milesworth holidays india • srilanka • maldives • and beyond

visit: www.milesworth.com Milesworth Travels & Tours Pvt. Ltd., 39 R M Towers, 108 Chamiers Road, Chennai. Tel: +91-44-24320522 / 24359554 Fax: +91-44-24342668 E-mail: holidays@milesworth.com


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Feature by Suzanne McNeill

culturama

The Dak Times Live On


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Even as Indians have embraced digital forms of communication with fervour, the Indian Postal Service continues to holds its pride of place as the lifeline of the country. We take a look at the evolution of the country's postal service - from horse-driven deliveries to the friendly neighbourhood postman India’s Post Office is often regarded as a legacy of the Raj, but postal systems developed in India long before the arrival of the British. The Shatapatha Brahmana, a text describing Vedic ritual and history written around 700 BCE, refers to the king’s courier, the palagana, who is ‘despatched on his way’, and the 3rd century BCE Artha Shastra, a treatise on statecraft, economic policy and military strategy, mentions systems for collecting information and revenue data on behalf of the king, noting ‘a messenger of middle quality shall receive 10 panas for each yojana he travels; and twice as much when he travels from 10 to 100 yojanas.’ Messages were carried by runners on foot, and routes evolved for the carriage of despatches. Following the conquest of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in the 8th century CE, swift horse messengers were established in the province; and the rulers of the 13th century Mamluk dynasty created a messenger post system of runners on foot and horse to gather information about developments within their state. The Venetian explorer Marco Polo noted the presence of ‘Horse-Post-Houses’ at 25-mile stages on all the principle highways leading to different provinces, with horses standing ready for messengers, and the courier system was to be developed further by Babur, the first Mughal emperor, as part of his intelligence system. He constructed watchtowers to ensure safety along the routes, and ensured couriers and grooms were paid, and feed supplied for horses. By the 16th century, communications routed along the highways between Bengal and Sindh were supported by hundreds of serais, stopovers built along the roads as rest houses

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for pilgrims and traders. These served as staging posts for couriers where horses, camels and runners were kept in readiness for the speedy onward despatch of messages. Under Sher Shah and later Akbar these became dak-caukis (literally ‘mail check-post’), stations from which messengers operated in exceptionally fast relays. The Mughals also used homing pigeons to carry messages. As early as 1688, when its focus was still on trade, not the building of an empire, the East India Company opened a post office in Bombay, and then in Calcutta and Madras, but it would remain difficult for officials to send letters any great distance. A regular postal system was first introduced by Lord Clive in 1766, and the zamindars (landholders) along the various routes were held responsible for the supply of runners to carry the mail. Officials complained that ‘… frequent miscarriages of packets to and from Madras [occur], without possibility of tracing the cause, not knowing the stages where they do happen’. Communications were ‘tardy’ as no allowance was made for ‘passing the rivers’ and they demanded small boats be stationed as required. Under Warren Hastings, the services were expanded and made available for private as well as official communications. In 1774 the details of a regularised system were laid down, and rates of postage established: a fee of two annas per 100 miles. Post office departments were established in Calcutta in 1774, in Madras in 1778, and in Bombay in 1792. Even so, there was no central authority to secure the cooperation of the postal officials in different districts, or to maintain uniformity of procedure. Private dak systems existed everywhere, whilst the local Indian rulers maintained their own courier systems.

In 1837 the Indian Post Office was established, and the then Governor General assumed the exclusive right to convey letters by post within the territories governed by the East India Company – for all its seemingly benign intent, this was, of course, part of the Company’s structure of power. The Imperial Post controlled all the main routes and large offices, and the District Post managed rural services, pioneering postal facilities in backward rural tracts.


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By the mid-19th century it was apparent that a uniform rate of postage, irrespective of distance, was required, as was the need for prepayment by means of stamps. Until then it required a lengthy consultation with a daunting book of tables to establish the postal rates for a letter from, say, Madras to Lucknow, but from 1855 a letter could be sent anywhere from anywhere in India for half an anna. Compulsory prepayment meant that letters could not just be read by the recipients then refused, leaving the both the sender and recipient satisfied but the Post Office without revenue – a common practice, by account. At the same time, the rates and conveyance for parcel post, which had its origins in the old ‘bhangy post’, the name derived from the bhangy or bamboo stick with parcels on either end that carriers balanced on their shoulders, were laid down with the railways, but only after much wrangling between the Post Office and the railway companies. Post Office officials, it was said, seemed to think that railways had been invented only for the conveyance of mail, whilst the railways regarded the Post Office as a nuisance, and its officials as thieves. The postal service developed into an extensive network of post offices and letterboxes, and the volume of mail moved by the system increased relentlessly, doubling from 224,000 in 1855 to 556,000 in 1866, then again by 1871. New services emerged. The Post Office took over the management and issue of money orders, and Post Office savings banks opened across the country. The telegraph was introduced in 1850 and the first telephone exchanges in

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The world’s first official airmail flight took place in India in 1911 when a French pilot carried mail a distance of 11 miles (18 km) across the Ganges

We would like to thank Mr. Steve Borgia, Chairman & Managing Director of INDeco Leisure Hotels, for generously sharing the images from his book, Pigeons to Post - a coffee table book that provides a comprehensive look at the history of India's postal service.


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for the job of a postman and taking the post, discovers friendship, drama and love while delivering the post to the villagers on his round. The Indian postal service grew sevenfold after Independence, and is now the largest postal network in the world. But the landscape is changing – modern India has embraced digital communications and leads the world in their implementation. Only ten years ago, there was a tactile quality to the post, with mail sent in a range of materials that included wax paper, cloth paper and paper reinforced with cotton. In the age of the Internet and instant messaging, this now seems quaint, just as the closure of the country’s last telegraph office in 2013 was marked by the despatch of one last telegram, sent to Rahul Gandhi.

the 1880s, both part of the postal service before becoming separate departments. The world’s first official airmail flight took place in India in 1911 when a French pilot carried mail a distance of 11 miles (18 km) across the Ganges. The dak-wallah – the postman – became the branch of public service in closest contact with the people. He was earnest and dutiful, undergoing perilous journeys through difficult terrain to reach his destination. Local knowledge was a necessity; letters would bear the name of the person but no indication of the place of delivery. One such example was addressed only ‘To the sacred feet of the most worshipful, the most respected brother, Guru Pershad Singh’. If he read no English, the postman would scrawl the name of the recipient in the vernacular on the back of an envelope, or a description. Hence Sir John Stevens, a judge in the Calcutta High Court, received letters with the words ‘Old Stevens Sahib’ on the back, which distinguished him from his younger colleague, Mr Justice Stephens. The postman was an integral part of the lives of communities, a relationship that was not without conflict as RK Narayan’s short story ‘The Missing Mail’ (1947) portrays. In this the genial postman, who brings news of marriage offers, new grandchildren and job interviews, makes a decision to delay the delivery of a telegram about a death in the family to ensure that a forthcoming marriage is not postponed. In the 1977 film Palkon ki Chhaon Mein, the life of the hero is transformed when he is mistaken for a candidate

Even so, its branch infrastructure of 155,000 post offices makes the Indian Post Office larger than the entire network of all the commercial banks of the country and, significantly, 90 per cent of the network caters to rural areas where it is a lifeline both familiar and trusted. The quantity of mail delivered year on year has started to decrease, but the postal department has moved beyond its traditional function, delivering a range of financial services include savings and deposit account services and insurance to over 150 million people. It is responsible for disbursing government payments and social benefit schemes, provides money orders, sells foreign currency and collects payments on behalf of service providers. It has been leveraged by e-commerce companies such as Flipkart and Amazon, delivering parcels to places where courier companies do not operate. For example, places such as Hikkim. Located in this remote village in Himachal Pradesh, 15,000 feet above sea level, is India’s highest post office. From Hikkim, the mail is taken every morning on foot to the town of Kaza, then by bus to Reckong Peo, on to Shimla and then to Kalka by train where it is again put on a bus and driven to Delhi for sorting. The spirit of the dak-wallah lives on.


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Learn a yoga pose by Namita Jain

The bridge

Lift your hips and back off the floor into a bridge position. This position strengthens and stretches the torso simultaneously. 1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. 2. Lift your hips and back off the floor like a bridge position. Benefits: Strengths the back, stretches the torso and improves stability.


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Spotlight by Team Culturama

Republic Day January 26, 2018

A quick look at the significance of Republic Day and the celebrations the accompany it Republic Day, celebrated on January 26, honours the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950, replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document of India, and completing the country’s transition towards becoming an independent republic. This specific date was chosen because it was on January 26 in 1930 that the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress. The Republic Day parade, held in New Delhi, is the main highlight, which commences from the gates of the Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President of India’s residence). Nine to 12 different regiments of the Indian Army, in addition to the Navy and Air Force, march past with their bands, in all

their finery and official decorations. The President of India (the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces) takes the salute. Twelve contingents of various paramilitary forces of India and other civil forces also take part in this parade. Another prominent event is the Beating Retreat ceremony, held on January 29, and performed by the bands of the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force at Raisina Hill and the adjacent Vijay Chowk, flanked by the North and South Blocks of the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The President arrives escorted by the President’s Bodyguard (PBG), a cavalry unit. Then, the PBG commander asks the unit to give the national salute, which is followed by the playing of the Indian National Anthem by the Army. The Army develops the ceremony of display by the massed bands in which military bands, pipe and drum bands, buglers and trumpeters from the Army, Navy and Air Force take part.


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Hit The Road by Akhila Ravikumar

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Interestingly, shape of the Rameshwaram island resembles that of a conch.

At Land’s End A land that is enshrined in the Ramayana and is also known for being the resting place of one of India’s greatest scientists – Rameswaram has more to it than meets the eye

Many of us in India have grown up listening to legends from the Ramayana – especially of how an army of monkeys helped build a bridge that connected the southern tip of India and the country of Lanka (today, Sri Lanka), so that Lord Rama could cross over, defeat the demon king Ravana and rescue his wife, Sita. To think that Dhanushkodi, where I am, might be the exact spot where this is supposed to have happened over thousands of years ago is bound to instill a sense of wonder. During colonial times, Dhanushkodi was a prosperous town that served as an important point for traders and pilgrims, flanked as it is by the Bay of Bengal on one side and the Indian Ocean on the other. Add to it that fact that Sri Lanka was just about 30 km away, and the town’s importance went up a few notches more. However, a cyclone that hit


January 2018

In 1964, a cyclone destroyed Dhanushkodi completely and the town is now inhabited only by around five hundred fisherfolk

the town in 1964 destroyed it completely and the erstwhile populous town is now inhabited only by around five hundred fisherfolk. Some ghostly ruins seen in and around the area are a sad reminder of the unfortunate event. A look at the map is a must before visiting both Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi – especially in this age of Google Maps. Rameswaram, located on the Pamban Island, is separated from mainland India by the Pamban Channel, and is connected to the mainland by the Pamban Bridge. It has many islands surrounding it and is bounded by the Palk Strait in the north-west and Gulf of Mannar in the south-east. Interestingly, the island’s shape resembles that of a conch. Visitors can stay at the beautiful Hyatt Place, a beautiful and modern 5-Star hotel – a delight in itself given its crisp architecture and impeccable interiors. Given that practically every convenience, on par with others in any metropolis, is available, we felt very much at home during our stay. Of popular interest is the Ramasetu, the bridge supposedly built by monkeys for Rama to cross over to Lanka. This chain of limestone shoals is 29 km long and separates the Gulf of Mannar from the Palk Strait, and is seen as physical evidence by many of the mythological bridge mentioned in the Ramayana. It is said that it was possible that the bridge was accessible to those travelling by foot until the 15th century, after which storms deepened the channel. Geologically, this could be a confirmation of a former land connection between India and Sri Lanka. There is only enough land to accommodate the super straight road that appears to stretch endlessly to the very tip of this peninsula. The sight of large tracts of empty lands on either side of the roadway make one wish that construction

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Photo: Akhila Ravikumar

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Inspired by the Ramayana Almost every aspect of Rameswaram and Dhanushkodi seem to be inspired by the Ramayana, right from their names: ‘Rameswara’ means ‘One whose Lord is Rama’, while ‘Dhanushkodi’ is derived from ‘dhanush’ which means ‘bow’ and ‘kodi’ which means ‘tip’. Around 3 km away from the Ramanathaswamy Temple is the Gandhamathan Parvatham, a hillock that is the highest point in the island, in which is a two-storeyed hall, where Rama’s feet are found as an imprint on a wheel. In Dhanushkodi is the Kothandaramaswamy Temple, dedicated to Rama, where it is said that Vibishana, Ravana’s brother, surrendered to Rama.


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The the pillared corridors of the Ramanathaswamy Temple are beautiful and awe-inspiring.

and development would touch this place as it would mean an end to the pristine beauty of the monsoon seas lashing both sides of the land. A sandy beach stretches beyond the Ashoka Pillar, which marks land’s official ending. A message from the phone company alerting us to ‘International Roaming’ is an apt coincidence even as we talk about how close we are to Sri Lanka.

Reliving Dr. Kalam’s Memory

Along with Varanasi, Rameshwaram is one of the holiest cities in India – and regarded a must-visit place for Hindus. The most notable historic landmark in these parts, the Ramanathaswamy Temple is an architectural marvel, and the pillared corridors – the longest among all temples in India – are beautiful and awe-inspiring. Seen as one of the most important places of pilgrimage for Hindus, it is dedicated to Lord Shiva, and was built in the 12th century. The legend behind the temple’s lingam (a pillar-shaped idol that is used to denote Shiva) goes that Rama had built a lingam from the sand on the beach and worshipped Shiva to bless him with victory against Ravana. When Shiva conferred his blessing, Rama prayed that Shiva should reside at Rameswaram so that mankind would benefit from it. This wish, too, was granted. There are 64 holy water bodies (known as tirthas) in and around Rameswaram, of which 22 tanks are within the temple’s premises. Devotees are encouraged to bathe in the waters of each of the 22 wells, as each one supposedly contains different minerals and properties.

Photo: Akhila Ravikumar

The Ramanathaswamy Temple

A trip to Rameswaram would not be complete without a visit to the memorial of the late Dr. Abdul Kalam, the former President of India and one of the country’s greatest scientists. Simple geometric forms, a modern landscape, clean lines and larger-than- life photo murals act as an excellent testimony to his life and legacy. At this shrine, Hindu pilgrims dressed in traditional black (as they are headed to the temple of Sabarimala) juxtaposed with black burkha-clad women silently file past, paying homage to this ‘People’s president’ – a man who epitomised simple living, high thinking. Copies of the Bible, Quran and Bhagavad Gita, placed at the base of his statue, remind us of the beauty of India’s secular landscape.


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At Global Adjustments Foundation 44 January 2018

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The Nagaland–Tamil Nadu Confluence: Learning to build an inclusive mindset, GA Centre

Indian Roots

Global wings

17,000 in 2017

Transforming the workforce with SELFIE* women

The number in the title is the number of women who were empowered with holistic life excellence through interactive and immersive workshops led by global experts. Contact us for free women's workshop in 2018 - foundation@globaladjustments.com

Igniting the spark of self-esteem in future leaders, Government Girls School

Goal-setting and time management, Dhanapal College


culturama

January 2018

Self-Esteem Building Expressive Communication Life Leadership Financial Planning Inclusive Thinking Equilibrium Living

Emotional Intelligence and expressive communication to strengthen relationships, Queen Mary's College

Guided meditation for faculty members and students, MOP Vaishnav College

Work–life balance, Tamil Nadu Policewomen

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Holistic Living by Eknath Easwaran

Forgiving

Others, Forgiving Ourselves

Only those who forgive others will enjoy the healing power of forgiveness in themselves, because in showing mercy to others we are being merciful with ourselves as well

The marvel of forgiveness is this: When we can completely forgive someone the tantrum they threw this afternoon, we are at the same time beginning to forgive ourselves for every tantrum we have ever thrown at others. You can see how practical a step it is to take. All those other people may long since have forgotten what we did and said – maybe some of them did not really care much in the first place. But deep in our own minds, every single storm has left its mark. Every storm has burst a little hole in the consciousness through which angry thoughts, angry words and angry acts gradually seep into our daily life. In this sacred act of forgiveness we are mending thousands of these little holes. It relieves us of part of the tremendous burden that all of us carry within, healing our consciousness and taking the pressure of anxiety off our mind and our nervous system. And it makes us much less likely to get provoked the next time someone rubs us the wrong way. This is the miracle forgiveness works. Only those who forgive others will enjoy the healing power of forgiveness in themselves, because in showing mercy to others we are being merciful with ourselves as well. The reason is simple: Only then are we abiding by life’s most fundamental law, that all of us are one. If I give love to others, it means I stand to benefit from that love as much as they. Not necessarily immediately, not necessarily directly, but that love has to come back to me – for I have added to the measure of love in the world, the mystics say, and I am part of that whole. Similarly, if I add meanness, stinginess, resentment and hostility, then sooner or later that sort of treatment will be shown to me.


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Photo: Katharina Hilde ZINK, Germany

This is not so occult as it may sound. After all, when someone treats us unkindly, is it not natural that we begin to avoid that person, speak curtly, even be unkind ourselves? When a person is regularly unkind, it conditions our expectations; then, when that person surprises us with something thoughtful – it does happen! – we may shun him anyway, simply out of habit. It is the same with kindness: when we can count on a person to be loving, we give our love freely in return, and allow a wide margin for those rare times when he or she might act otherwise. That is how our responses to life come back to us. In Hindu and Buddhist mysticism, this common sense principle is called the law of karma. The word karma has been much misunderstood, but its literal meaning is simply action, something done. So instead of using exotic language, we might as well refer to the “law of action,” which states that everything we do – even everything we think, since our thoughts condition our behaviour – has consequences. It is a law of life, which no one has stated more clearly than Jesus: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it

when we can completely forgive someone the tantrum they threw this afternoon, we are at the same time beginning to forgive ourselves for every tantrum we have ever thrown at others shall be meted unto you.” Paul puts it more tersely: “As we sow, so shall we reap.” If we sow mercy, we shall receive it in ample harvest. Never in the history of human relations has any problem ever been solved except through greater love, endurance and forgiveness on the part of some person. Join Us Every Saturday Global Adjustments Office, Chennai, facilitates a free weekly spiritual fellowship group following Easwaran’s Eight–Point Programme of Meditation. E-mail us for more information at globalindian@globaladjustments. com. If you are in other cities, visit www.bmcm.org for e-satsangs.


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Festivals of India by Team Culturama

Ringing in a New Year Throughout this month, various Indian states celebrate the ‘New Year’, which has traditionally been a time for thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. Apart from the common elements of food, music, dance and colour that define the occasion, each state has its own way of celebrating this festival. It is noteworthy that some states celebrate their ‘New Year’ in March and April as well.

Lohri

January 13 Lohri, popularly known as the harvest festival of Punjab, takes place typically in the months of March and April. The memory of the legendry Dulha Bhatti, who is often synonymous with the legend of Robin Hood in the West, is commemorated. Children continue the tradition of going from door to door and singing his songs of chivalry, and they are given gifts in return. The highlight of this festival is the bonfire that is lit at sundown, when the God of Fire, Agni, is worshipped for continued prosperity.

Lohri is all about having fun! The whole family, along with extended family and friends, dances around the fire – given that the weather is very chilly in January, it helps us keep warm and comfortable! We also pop corn in the fire, and pass around jalebis, one of the popular sweets eaten during this festival – Madhurika Tetali, Punjab

PONGAL

January 14 The harvest festival of Tamil Nadu, is a tribute to the Gods of rain and sun, and a time to worship cattle that are an intrinsic part of the agricultural scenario in India. The first day or ‘Bhogi’ is when the Rain God is worshipped. A huge bonfire is built to burn old things, such as clothes and other material possessions, in the evening. The second day, ‘Surya Pongal’ or ‘Thai Pongal’, is when the Sun God is worshipped, with milk heated in a pot and allowed to boil over, so as to symbolise overflowing prosperity in the coming year. The third day, ‘Maattu Pongal’, is when farmers pay their respects to their cattle, by decorating them with colourful pieces of cloth and parading them around the village. The last day is known as ‘Kaanum Pongal’, which literally means ‘to view’; in rural parts, this is the day when communities come together and acknowledge each other’s support in the successful harvest.

Pongal is the first major festival of the year – the best part is travelling to our village and celebrating with the extended family. Maattu pongal is my favourite part as I enjoy dressing up the cows with ribbons and painting – Sucharita Ganesh, Tamil Nadu their horns.


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Uttarayana

January 14 Uttarayan signifies the movement of the Sun, as ‘uttar’ means north, while ‘ayan’ means movement. If you happen to be in Gujarat or Rajasthan during this harvest season, you will see that the sky is dotted with the most magnificent array of kites – from the ordinary to the spectacular. This is the people’s homage to the Sun God. Parts of Maharashtra also follow this tradition.

Almost everybody gets involved in flying kites during this time. The manjha (thread that is tied to the kite) is of different colours – with each colour indicating a different community. The manjha is rolled in powered glass and is very sharp – this is helpful when it comes to cutting down other people’s kites but you need to be very skilled in handling it! – Kajal Virani, Gujarat

Makara Sankranthi/Sankranthi

January 14

Makara Sankranthi means ‘transition’ and traces the Sun’s journey as it moves northwards, thus ushering in spring. Celebrated as Sankranthi in West Bengal, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, it is celebrated by flying kites; this festival symbolises new hope. It is also a time when families discard old clothes and things as a sign to welcome the new in the coming year.

As part of the festival, women wear black saris and get together and exchange gifts. They also give haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (vermillion) to each other and share sweets – especially tilgul, which is made with sesame seeds and jiggery. When they give tilgul, the receiver says, ‘Tilgul gya, goad goad bola’ (‘As you take this sweet, may your speech also be sweetened’). – Palavi Kele, Maharasthra

Bhogali Bihu

January 15 "The name of one of Assam's biggest festivals comes from the word ‘Bhoga’, which means ‘to eat’ or ‘to enjoy’. This twoday festival begins with the creation of the meiji or bhelaghar, or make-shift thatch and bamboo enclosures, under which the entire community comes together for a feast. The next day, these shacks are set ablaze to signify obeisance to Agni (God of Fire), and to ward off the evil for the next harvest season. This festival is all about food and enjoyment, and is celebrated over seven days. One must watch the traditional dances during the festival, and the drums being played. The buffalo and cock fights are also looked forward to during this time. – Sathya A., Assam


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A celebration of all things Urdu, Jashn-e-Rekhta – a threeday festival held in Delhi in December – is a time for artistes and connoisseurs to revel in the multifaceted beauty of the language and its culture

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It is not always that I set my heart out for the dead. But that cold December morning in New Delhi’s Major Dhyan Chand National Stadium, I was seeking the dead. Waiting for the dead to come alive in the iambs and the octaves at the 4th edition of Jashn-e-Rekhta, a celebration of Urdu. The crowd was clamouring for chairs draped in yellow satin, and poetry hung heavy in the air. Bells were clinging to boughs of trees and painted canvas broke the monotony of the sackcloth staircase. On an inadvertent cue, my feet walked to Mehfil-eKhana, as if it knew its destination and my yearning for the dead. Dr. Radhika Chopra was singing Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and in the audience sat Salima Hashmi, the poet’s daughter. As Danish Iqbal narrated anecdotes from Faiz’s life and recited his couplets in a deep baritone, I knew the dead weren’t dead. Poets never die. Faiz was alive. In his poems. In my soul.


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India Impressions by Preeti Verma Lal

All photographs by Preeti Verma Lal

Faiz was not the only one who was brought to life at Jashn-e-Rekhta. At Mehfil-e-Khana, Madan Gopal Singh and his Chaar Yaar were singing Amir Khusro’s Damadam mast kalandar, written in honour of Shahbaz Qalandar of Sehwan Sharif, the most revered Sufi saint of Sindh; Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Nandita Das discussed their upcoming biopic on Saadat Hasan Manto; Javed Akhtar talked of Kuch Ishq Kiya Kuch Kaam Kiya. At Bazm-e-Khayal, Sharif Hussain Qazmi went back in time to deconstruct Persian and Urdu poetry, Aslam Mirza elaborated upon Dakani Urdu, the forgotten beauty of Urdu poetry and Pavan Verma looked at Ghalib Beyond Time. Writer Amish Tripathi connected his love for Urdu, while film-maker Imtiaz Ali delved into the imagination and reality in the Bhagwad Gita. Jashn-e-Rekhta thrives on the glorious past of Urdu but does not ignore the present. Khuli Nishist is an open house

for poetry recitation and Bazm-e-Naubahar a mushaira for young poets. The festival also steps beyond the usual. Urdu met Alt Rock when Parvaaz, the Bengaluru-based band, combined couplets with head-banging and perfect riff; Urdu erased geographical boundaries when Tanya Wells, a Brazilian singer, sang Aaj jaane ki zid na karo. During the three-day festival, the biggest names in Urdu literature gather to discuss, ideate the nuances of the language; they bring alive the past, meld it with the present in the hope of stringing a more lyrical tomorrow, through mushaira, qawaali, ghazal, dastangoi, plays, film screenings discussion combined with authentic Mughal, Awadhi, Kashmiri, Deccan food, sessions in calligraphy and a Rekhta Bazaar. Divided into four sessions simultaneously (MehfilKhana, Bazm-e-Khayal, Dayaar-e-Izhaar, Kunj-e-Shukun) and free to public, Jashn-e-Rekhta brings Urdu out of the


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academia and lays it on a platter for every man who loves the language and smiths it. At Jashn-e-Rekhta, everyone seems to own – and live – Urdu. A woman in orange stares at a blue canvas of Firaq Gorakhpuri. A man in tousled hair sits alone as if swathed in a Mir Taqi Mir verse. A young girl picks the brush and paints an ayat (verses from the Quran) and an old man spurns his walking stick and raises his hand in communion with god. Amidst the lilt of qawwali, the truths of Saadat Hasan Manto and the construct of Muslim socials, at the door of Mehfile-Khana there stood a man. Unassumingly. In his signature bandhgala suit and moccasins. An iron ring circled around his middle finger and red thread from the temple peeping from behind the seams of his right sleeve. There’s an obvious quiet around him. So quiet that you think he can read other people’s dreams. No ostentation. Just an undertone of a smile which hides the fact that Rekhta is his doing. The man – his name is Sanjiv Saraf – who started rekhta.org as an extension of his love for the language, founded Rekhta Foundation and began Jashn-e-Rekhta four years ago. I walked into Jashn-e-Rekhta looking for Urdu in the iambs and the octaves. For two days, Urdu crept under my skin. Nothing else mattered. Nothing else remained essential. There was no You and I. No ecstasy. No agony. No yesterday. No tomorrow. Just the poetry of Firaq Gorakhpuri. The prose of Manto. And the kalaam of Amir Khusro: The dust of your doorstep is just the right thing to apply, If surmah (kohl powder) does not show its beauty in the eye!

With nearly 30,000 ghazals and nazms of over 2,500 Urdu poets, www.rekhta.org is the world’s largest online repository of Urdu poetry. With readership in 160 countries, it has the complete works of two great Urdu poets Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Ghalib and all the short stories by Saadat Hasan Manto. Add to it e-books, audio/video recordings and online Urdu-learning tutorial.


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At Chef's Table we serve fresh, simple food that enhances the true flavour of each ingredient in an imaginative and original way            

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Music is in the air The ‘Music Season’, which goes on for around six weeks from December–January, in Chennai, is said to be the largest in the world, with around 1,500 music and dance performances by artistes from across India and the world.

“I am very proud to have partnered with Global Adjustments for the very first AIKYA in 2010 and then in 2017. The collaboration enriched musical ideas with so many little nuances! The funds raised at Aikya will go towards retired accompanying artistes, and I am very honoured to have been a part of this cause.”

Traditionally, the Music Season (or Margazhi Season as it is called – named after the Tamil month, Margazhi, which lasts from mid-December to mid-January) was a platform for Carnatic music aficionados to revel in performances by renowned artists, and as a stage for promising young artistes. Music permeates everything during this time – from the discussions about whom to listen to, the lament about fast-

— Aruna Sairam

The magic of the Margazhi Music Season now goes beyond the December–January timeframe as musical events are held throughout the year. A most awaited musical event is the aikya series of annual concerts

To be a part of the amazing Aikya 2018, on March 10,

PLEASE CALL Ms. Anupama Arvind, +91 98416 54816. Email : anupama@globaladjustments.com

“Being part of AIKYA 2011 was, for me, an extension of the aesthetic energy of life. Sharing artistic space with Vidushi Sudha Raghunathan was made possible only because of AIKYA — an evening that I treasure. The whole concert, from ideation to the actual musical evening, was precious.”

— T.M. Krishna


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With time, the spirit of the Margazhi Season spread beyond the December–January timeframe – organisations and individuals began to organise concerts and events that celebrate the performance arts throughout the year. One such musical event is the Aikya series of annual concerts, held since by 2010 by Global Adjustments – usually held in February or March (in what was earlier known as the ‘off season’ period).

“It was a memorable programme to plan and perform AIKYA 2011 along with T.M. Krishna, and then with Aruna Sairam in 2017. The cause of retiring musicians and women’s empowerment is worthy and AIKYA truly inspires even as it unites.”

— Sudha Raghunathan disappearing tickets, and (as said with a touch of irony) which venues boast of the best snacks and coffee.

Each Aikya event brings to stage a concert based on a theme drawn from Indian mythology and spiritual thought. From resolving conflicts by drawing inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita to a fictitious dialogue between Sita and Mandodari of the Ramayana; from the many forms of love to following a soul’s journey; from discovering the bonds of unity to uncovering the treasures of this ancient land. Running to packed audiences, the eight Aikya concerts held thus far have seen these themes brought to life through a curated musical extravaganza by stalwarts in the music field.

With time, the ‘format’ of these concerts – of being performed in the sabhas or concert halls, with the standard ensemble of a main performer and ancillary artistes – has given way to novel interpretations. Theatre, dance and folk art add a new dimension; graphic visuals combine with poetry; rock and pop intersperse with traditional music; buses and trains are the new ‘venues’. One thing has not changed, though: The city is bound by its love for music and the performing arts and everyone, be they a novice or connoisseur, revels in it.

“Many a time, a concert gets lifted to unexpected heights because of the accompanying artistes’ support and cooperation. More so in our Carnatic music, where the dialogues between the artistes on stage is one of the main parameters that defines success. Thanks to Aikya 2014.” — Sikkil Gurucharan

Aikya 2012 was based on the idea of how melody can be a friend at different moments in our lives. It was a fascinating experience! — Bombay Jayashri

“Being a part of Aikya 2014 was an unique experience. Accompanying artistes are definitely the backbone of our concerts. In fact, if people notice you, it is because of them.” — Shweta Mohan


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“While working on a thought-provoking theme of ‘Resolving Conflicts’ based on the Bhagavad Gita, we experienced true aikya (convergence) of music, ideas, organisation and promotion. It gave us the opportunity to think out of the box and to also work with artistes across genres, in Aikya 2013.” — Ranjani and Gayatri Global Adjustments strongly believes in fostering relationships through the arts and in positively impacting the community it serves. To that end, Aikya, a 90-minute concert, raises funds in support of Smrutha Dhvani, an initiative by Interface and Global Adjustments Services Pvt. Ltd. for retiring artistes in the fields of music, dance and performance and empowering young girls by providing them with educational support. Smrutha Dhvani is an initiative to build a tangible future for classical artistes of the past. It is an apt name, and a better cause as accompanying artistes, who lend a good deal of support to each concert, often lack financial success. These artistes include vidwans (a term used to describe the expertise

“‘I think the true stature of an artist is based on what he/ she has to offer back to the music system. Aikya 2016 offered this opportunity and experience.” — Abhishek Raghuram and knowledge of Indian classical musicians), ghatam (an earthen pot used as a percussion instrument) and ganjira (tambourine) players, composers and oduvars (singers of devotional songs in temples). The fund provides monetary support for the artiste and his/her spouse for the rest of their lives.

“We view a song as a holistic experience that is brought about by the combination of the right words, notes and expression. Aikya 2016 was all about this experience.” — Sanjeev Abhyankar In addition, Aikya has supported young women, who are first-generation degree holders, towards their higher education. This is in line with the belief that an empowered woman will better the lives not just of her family members but of the society at large – and, thereby, the nation and the world.

“It was an amazing opportunity to be part of Aikya 2015 – the challenge was to be able to compress all we want to do into just 90 minutes!” — Ganesh and Kumaresh

Music can bring together people from varied backgrounds in mutual appreciation and love for the art. And if this medium can be used to serve the society we live in, it would help deepen the ties that bind us. This, ultimately, is the goal of Aikya – Oneness through Music. Aikya 2018 presents a combination of never-seen before music stalwarts on March 10. Venue: The Music Academy, Old No. 306, New No. 168, T.T.K. Road, Royapettah, Chennai - 600014


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Myth & Mythology by Devdutt Pattanaik

The Power of

Fairtytales A friend pointed out that the popular fairy tale Cinderella is very much like a vrata-katha: a girl in trouble, tortured by female members of her family, prays to and is saved by a goddess (fairy godmother, in this case). But grace depends on her following certain rules (return home before midnight). And all is well when she becomes a wife.

Folktales are often labelled as ‘patriarchal’ – in fact, they were designed to help women cope with patriarchy, with the fairy godmothers and other deities serving as psychological anchors

Vrata means an observance, mostly by women. It does not involve intervention of Brahmins, although in many cases priests have wormed their way into the ritual. It basically involves fixing one’s mind (dyana in Sanskrit) on a deity. This is facilitated by following some prohibitions like not eating some foodstuffs and some observances like preparing particular kinds of food, and offering a certain number of flowers and leaves (seven, ten, nine or sixteen). A pot or a mound of rice or clay represents the deity, to whom usually lamps, incense, fruit, leaf, flower, water, and milk is offered. It may involve the tying of a holy thread on the arm or wrist or ankle – a knot being the Indic code of connection or bondage. The purpose of this vrata (known as osha in Odisha) ritual is very mundane, never


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Photo: Maayan GUTGOLD, Israel

mystical. It is about health and wealth for the family. The housewife is the priestess of the household, through whom positive energy is channelled into the home. In unusual cases, men perform vrata. The stories of the vrata-katha are most interesting because they speak of coping with family issues. In these stories, women are helped by goddesses and gods, who serve as inspiration or motivational catalysts, granting them inner strength and magic to face a trying situation. Were these the earliest forms of feminist literature? Of course, many modern feminists refuse to empathise with anything traditional, assuming feminism is a modern invention. Folk songs often speak of women finding strength in heroines like Sita, Draupadi, Kunti, Damayanti and Savitri who overcome hurdles and obstacles, and the disappointment embodied in Prince Charming.

as part of khudurkuni osha, who is ill-treated by her sisters-inlaw after her brothers set sail to faraway Bali for trade, until she prays to Mangala, the goddess of good fortune. Worship involves building a sand temple on the beach, and offering the goddess a share of her frugal meal made of roasted broken rice (khuda, in Odisha), usually kept aside for servants in rich households. It is interesting in this story that problems start for Topoi after she asks for moon-shaped jewellery from her brothers, and the problems are solved after she prays to Mangala on Sundays, a shift from a lunar to a solar deity. In the story, the villain is a Brahmin widow, who corrupts the wives of merchants, and the solution takes the form of the brothers finally returning from their sea voyage, and the nose-cutting of the mean sisters-in-law. The noses are restored after they pray to Mangala. Very fairytale like, one can argue.

The most famous of these vrata-kathas in India, thanks to Bollywood, is the solah-shukra-vrata of Santoshi-maa. Here, a woman is tortured by her sister-in-law, who gives her a roti made of husk flour and foul water in coconut shells until she venerates Santoshi-maa on Friday – a worship that demands she not eat anything sour, and make offerings of gram and jaggery. In Odisha, one hears the story of a girl called Topoi,

Nowadays, folktales are stripped of power by modernity and material philosophies by labelling them as patriarchal. In fact, they were designed to help women cope with patriarchy, with the fairy godmothers and other deities serving as psychological anchors and rafts that one could hold on to in bad times.

Published on 24th September, 2017, in Mid-day. Article courtesy www.devdutt.com


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Culturama January 2018  
Culturama January 2018  

The January issue of Culturama celebrates the dawn of a new year with a variety of delightful offerings. Here are some picks: - A look at th...

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