Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Confluence of Two Cultures - India and Cambodia (Angkor Wat)

Aa Ka Ma Boi, Paana Gua Thoi, Paana Gua Toro, Masaka Dharama Moro

This incantation reverberates on the banks of River Mahanadi on the day of Kartik Purnima as

thousands of people descend to the banks to sail paper, straw and bamboo boats celebrating the

history of Bali Jatra. The sailing of boats heralds Odisha biggest festival after Rath Yatra -

the Bali Yatra at Cuttack.

At the turn of the last millennium, Odisha, or Kalinga as it was known then, was a major sea

faring nation and controlled many of the sea routes for trading in South East Asia. Its

influence spread far and wide, from Sri Lanka to the Malay peninsula, Bali, Sumatra, Cambodia.

One can still witness the many similarity of culture and architecture in Bali and Cambodia with

Kalinga. One spectacular result of this confluence of cultures is the World-renowned Angkor Wat

temple at Cambodia.

As one gets off a bus and looks onto the grand Angkor Wat temple near Siam Rep in Cambodia, one

is hit by a sense of absolute déjà vu. It is like staring at a temple from Odisha in a distant

land. The surreal feeling continues as one goes deeper into the temple. How can something so

similar be created in a land so far off where the features and language are so alien?

Built in the early 12th century AD over an enormous 500 acres compound, Angkor Wat is the centre

of a long lost city civilization. The Khymer architecture, as it is known, has obviously evolved

from the Indian subcontinent, especially Kalinga, whose influence seems to have been the

greatest. The temple structure uncannily mirrors the Odishan temples built between 6th cent -

13th century AD.

The ancient texts of Odisha are full of stories of sailors sailing off during Kartik Poornima to

the far off lands of Bali, Java, Sumatra, Khambuja (Cambodia), Sinhala (Sri Lanka). We celebrate

Bali-Jatra to mark the occasion. One can imagine the maritime sailors making their way to far

off lands to trade in spices, silk and jewels - drifting to far off Cambodia. In the process,

leaving behind a piece of their own culture with every journey back to the homeland. Maybe some

settled for longer and started building as per the traditions of home. The stories from back

home were woven into the cultural fabric of the lands where these sea farers went into. There

has been evidence of Kalinga presence in Funan (ancient Cambodia) from as far back as 3rd

century BC. Legend has it that the Funan Kingdom came into being when a prince from Kalinga

married a Naga princess.

Buddhism started its spread from Kalinga when Emperor Ashoka embraced the peace of Buddhism in

the 3rd century BC after the Kalinga war. It made its way to the Indo china region and found

expression in the culture and architecture of the region. The many evidence of Buddhism in the

culture, history and architecture of Odisha is similarly reflected in Cambodia.

The Jagannath temple according to many historians is a result of the intermingling of Buddhism

and the tribal ethnic local worship of the Jagannath idol. The peaceful iconic image of Buddha

has permeated the original tantric cult of Jagannath to give a widely accepted peaceful and all

knowing God to us.

The Angkor Wat which started as a Hindu temple got taken over by the spread of the cult of

Buddhism. The original image of Vishnu that formed the main deity of the temple was replaced by

an image of Buddha. The Angkor Wat was taken over by Buddhists sometime in the 13-14th century.

Vishnu reposing under the Vasuki is to be found co-existing with Buddha in meditation under a

peepal tree under the floral motifs associated with Hindu temples, in the temples of Angkor.

Like the Avalokiteshwar that we worship in our temples in eastern India, the all pervading

Avatar of Buddha/ Vishnu in the form of avalokiteshwar is also found at Angkor.

Like the temples of Odisha, the Angkor Wat has numerous carved images along its sides. There are

hundreds of poses of Apsaras along the walls of the temple. The poses of the apsaras remind one

of the various classical dances of the subcontinent. A full apsara dance has many similar mudras

or hand movements and poses as Odissi. It is much slower though in enaction. The storylines of

the dance are similarly from the Ramayana or Mahabharata. The churning of the ocean is a scene

that is repeated many times throughout the temples in the region, on the railings, bada or

pedestal, and the carvings on the side of the temples. The big spires at the end of the halls

are the sikharas that are visible to the naked eyes for miles around. A lotus head stone

completes the sikhara, similar to the temples of the subcontinent. A Lion guards the entrance as

in most Hindu temples.

The temples at home, like the Lingaraj or Jagannath temples, are built like a cascade of hills

with the pyramidal roofs ascending, with the tallest structure, the "shikhara" over the sanctum

sanctorum, at the centre, like a mountain reaching out to the sky. Similarly, the temple

structure of Angkor Wat resembles that of a mountain. International historians liken the

structure to Mount Meru, the abode of Lord Shiva. Kalinga historians have sometimes noted that

the structure could represent Mt Mahendraparvat in Odisha. Mahendraparvat has been mentioned

many times in ancient Cambodian history.

Whatever maybe the real story of Kalinga and Khambuja, it is amazing how the cultures merged in

such a significant manner in those far off days when the only means of communication was over

the waves of the mighty oceans, in roughly constructed sails and wooden boats.

Cultures have clashed and intermingled and carried forward with a new meaning from times

immemorial. Even if they are carved in stone. Especially if they are carved in stone. As these

mute and vibrant observers of history in stone testify.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Oh Kolkata! A Sunday Mid Morning Walk on Park Street

Flurys Park Street Kolkata
Some things in life never change. Like a Sunday morning on Park Street. There maybe an entirely different Government at the Centre. The country's political and social landscape may have changed beyond recognition in the past decade. I might be older(and wiser?) by a decade. More importantly there maybe an entirely different Government in Kolkata with the leftist flavor gone perhaps for ever...but Kolkata in many ways fortunately remains the same!

CLosed Park Street shops
A stroll on Park Street looking for a hair parlour and reviving old memories made me realise how much had gone by in the last 9 years but one could get no inkling of it here! The roads were a virtual empty stretch. In Kolkata's premium shopping and businss district it has been a source of constant amazement to me how it can sleep so utterly on Sunday mornings. No cabs, no lining up at exclusive shops, little pedestrian traffic, no jay walking or hustling to flag down a cab, no street vendors. All the pricey shops lining the Park Street utterly closed with massive shutters down. Its a Sunday in the true sense of the word, a day of no activity. So Worldwide while businesses vie for the weekend traffic and crowd and business, Kolkata preserves its serenity and how!
Park Street on Sunday
 I knew for a fact though things would start moving after one o'clock when the early diners would start coming to the lovely restaurants...the Peter Cats, the Trincas, the Silver Grills and the rest or even before that as late breakfasters would throng into Flurrys. True to my belief, old faithful Flurry's was a flurry of activity...while new entrant Au Bon Pain was virtually empty. There were of course the new additions of KFC and Mc Donalds which looked delightfully empty to my prejudiced self.

 At the end of the street (coming from the Park Circus area) Apeejay House stood steady in its regality (RIP Brother Pauls) while the stylists at A N John remained as snooty as ever! So after cutting my hair at a new parlour (Oxygen), since I couldnt convince the A N John's stylist to cut my hair as per my requirement, I completed my wanderings through the much beloved streets around Park Street with the universal cure for a hot sultry morning with a stop at Saturday Club.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Can't a President Have Fun? : Obama Selfie Pic

 Obama Selfie - Cant a President Have a Bit of Fun?

Well apparently not. Not at a funeral, not with a pretty lady Prime Minister of another country, definitely NOT with a selfie and apparently NOT with the first lady Michelle looking disapprovingly away!

The list of DONTS for Presidents have increased. You DONT take a smiling selfie at a funeral.

As the Memorial proceedings of Madiba were going on, The Prez Obama interacted with World leaders as one is supposed to do. At some point during those  interactions, the President whipped out his phone and took a "selfie" with the pretty Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning Schmidt with Britain's Mr Cameron looking on. And the world (or the cyber world) erupted!

What followed was miles and miles of tweets, retweets, opinions. And more opinions on why is Michelle Obama looking so glum!

However what I feel is that - come one the Prez is a man - let him have his selfie! Madiba wouldnt have objected. And more to the point - it kept up with the spirit of celebrating Mandela's life!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Watching Old Man and the Sea with Tom Alter - Bhubaneswar

Well not exactly...

'"The ocean is very big and a skiff is small and hard to see," the old
man said.  He noticed how pleasant it was to have someone to talk to
instead of speaking only to himself and to the sea.'

I had an amazing experience recently, watching the "Old Man and The Sea" performed on stage by Tom Alter and supported by Sufi dancer Zia Nath.

Tom Alter did all the talking himself as he spent nearly 1.5 hours on stage enacting the famous role of the old man adrift on the sea. Alter' performance was of such intensity that one felt really adrift with Santiago on a skiff checking baits, tackling a marlin, fighting shark attacks, thinking about the day's baseball, DiMaggio and the boy. You knew the old man wouldn't give up especially when he reminisced about an arm wrestling match with a much stronger opponent that went on and on till the pectators almost left for work on the next day. Santiago' fight with the fish was beautifully interspered with such stories as a much adored novel came to life in an amazing fashion.

The play had a Sufi background and Zia Nath provided some beautiful moments of dancing. Her rendition at the end was of awestrucking, speechless quality (how many turns did Zia do - 5000? I asked her but she said she didnt keep count)

The play was by Shivani Tibrewala.

Talking about the play the next day, Alter likened Sachin Tendulkar's spirit to Santiago's!

The play was staged during the Times Literary Festival at Bhubaneswar last week and seeing the crowd and it's rapt attention I wondered why we didnt get more such plays at Bhubaneswar. As I write this veteran Theatre Artist Anant Mahapatra's group "Utkal Rangmanch" is producing Theatre in Motion with some great plays screened at Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata. I can only hope Theatre in Motion also travels to Bhubaneswar!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Sachin's Farewell Speech in Last Match - 200th Test

This is the speech with which Sachin Tendulkar ended his last Test Match.

All my friends. Settle down let me talk, I will get more and more emotional. My life, between 22 yards for 24 years, it is hard to believe that that wonderful journey has come to an end, but I would like to take this opportunity to thank people who have played an important role in my life. Also, for the first time in my life I am carrying this list, to remember all the names in case I forget someone. I hope you understand. It's getting a little bit difficult to talk but I will manage.

The most important person in my life, and I have missed him a lot since 1999 when he passed away, my father. Without his guidance, I don't think I would have been standing here in front of you. He gave me freedom at the age of 11, and told me that chase my dreams, but make sure you do not find shortcuts. The path might be difficult but don't give up, and I have simply followed his instructions. Above all, he told me to be a nice human being, which I will continue to do and try my best. Every time I have done something special, showed my bat, it was [for] my father.

My mother, I don't know how she dealt with such a naughty child like me. I was not easy to manage. She must be extremely patient. For a mother, the most important thing is that her child remains safe and healthy and fit. That was what she was most bothered and worried about. She took care of me for the last 24 years that I have played for India, but even before that she started praying for me the day I started playing cricket. She just prayed and prayed and I think her prayers and blessings have given me the strength to go out and perform, so a big thank you to my mother for all the sacrifices.

In my school days, for four years, I stayed with my uncle and aunt because my school was quite far from my home, and they treated me like their son. My aunt, after having had a hard day's play, I would be half asleep and she would be feeding me food so I could go again and play tomorrow. I can't forget these moments. I am like their son and I am glad it has continued to be the same way.

My eldest brother, Nitin, and his family, have always encouraged me. My eldest brother doesn't like to talk much, but the one thing he always told me is that whatever you do, I know you will always give it 100%, and that I have full faith and confidence in you. His encouragement meant a lot to me. My sister, Savita, and her family, was no different. The first cricket bat of my life was presented to me by my sister. It was a Kashmir willow bat. But that is where the journey began. She is one of those many who still continue to fast when I bat, so thank you very much.

Ajit, my brother, now what do I talk about him? I don't know. We have lived this dream together. He was the one who sacrificed his career for my cricket. He spotted the spark in me. And it all started from the age of 11 when he took me to Archrekar sir, my coach, and from there on my life changed. You will find this hard to believe but even last night he called to discuss my dismissal, knowing that there was a remote chance of batting again, but just the habit we have developed, the rapport we have developed, since my birth, has continued and it will continue. Maybe when I'm not playing cricket we will still be discussing technique.

Various things we agreed upon, my technique, and so many technical things which I didn't agree with him, we have had arguments and disagreements, but when I look back at all these things in my life, I would have been a lesser cricketer.

The most beautiful thing happened to me in 1990 when I met my wife, Anjali. Those were special years and it has continued and will always continue that way. I know Anjali, being a doctor; there was a wonderful career in front of her. When we decided to have a family, Anjali took the initiative to step back and say that 'you continue with your cricket and I will take the responsibility of the family'.

Without that, I don't think I would have been able to play cricket freely and without stress. Thanks for bearing with all my fuss and all my frustrations, and all sorts of rubbish that I have spoken. Thanks for bearing with me and always staying by my side through all the ups and downs. You are the best partnership I've had in my life.
Then, the two precious diamonds of my life, Sara and Arjun. They have already grown up. My daughter is 16, my son is 14. Time has flown by. I wanted to spend so much time with them on special occasions like their birthdays, their annual days, their sports day, going on holidays, whatever. I have missed out on all those things. Thanks for your understanding. Both of you have been so, so special to me you cannot imagine. I promise you [that] for 14 and 16 years I have not spent enough time with both of you, but the next 16 years or even beyond that, everything is for you.

My in-laws, Anand Mehta and Annabel, both have been so, so supportive loving and caring. I have discussed on various things in life, generally with them, and have taken their advice. You know, it's so important to have a strong family who is always with you and who are guiding you. Before you start clapping, the most important thing they did was allowing me to marry Anjali, so thank you very much.

In the last 24 years that I have played for India I have made new friends, and before that I have had friends from my childhood. They have all had a terrific contribution. As and when I have called them to come and bowl to me at the nets, they have left their work aside to come and help me. Be it joining me on holidays and having discussions with me on cricket, or how I was a little stressed and wanting to find a solution so I can perform better.
All those moments my friends were with me. Even for when I was injured, I would wake up in the morning because I couldn't sleep and thought that my career was over because of injuries, that is when my friends have woken up at 3 o'clock in the morning to drive with me and make me believe that my career was not over. Life would be incomplete without all those friends. Thanks for being there for me.

My cricket career started when I was 11. The turning point of my career was when my brother (Ajit) took me to Achrekar sir. I was extremely delighted to see him up in the stands. Normally he sits in front of the television and he watches all the games that I play. When I was 11/12, those were the days when I used to hop back on his scooter and play a couple of practice matches a day. The first half the innings I would be batting at Shivaji Park, the second half, at some other match in Azad Maidan. He would take me all over Mumbai to make sure I got match practice.

On a lighter note, in the last 29 years, sir has never ever said 'well played' to me because he thought I would get complacent and I would stop working hard. Maybe he can push his luck and wish me now, well done on my career, because there are no more matches, sir, in my life. I will be witnessing cricket, and cricket will always stay in my heart, but you have had an immense contribution in my life, so thank you very much.

My cricket for Mumbai started right here on this ground, the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA), which is so dear to me. I remember landing from New Zealand at four o'clock in the morning, and turning up for a game here at eight o'clock just because I wanted to be a part of Mumbai cricket, and not that somebody forced me. That was for the love of Mumbai cricket, and thank you very much. The president is here so thank you very much, along with your team, for taking care of me and looking after my cricket.

The dream was obviously to play for India, and that is where my association with BCCI started. BCCI was fantastic, right from my debut they believed in my ability and selecting me into the squad at the age of 16 was a big step, so thanks to all the selectors for having faith in me and the BCCI for giving me the freedom to express myself out in the middle. Things would have been different if you had not been behind me, and I really appreciate your support. Especially when I was injured, you were right with me and making sure that all the treatments were taken care of, and that I got fit and fine and playing [right] back for India.

The journey has been special, the last 24 years, I have played with many senior cricketers, and even before that there were many senior cricketers with whom I watched on television. They inspired me to play cricket, and to play in the right way. Thanks to all those senior cricketers, and unfortunately I have not been able to play with them, but I have high regards for all their achievements and all their contributions.

We see it on the mega-screen, Rahul, Laxman, Sourav, and Anil, who is not here, and my team-mates right here in front me. You are like my family away from home. I have had some wonderful times with you. It is going to be difficult to not be part of the dressing room, sharing those special moments. All the coaches for their guidance, it has been special for me. I know when MS Dhoni presented me the 200th Test match cap on Day One morning. I had a brief message for the team. I would like to repeat that. I just feel that all of us are so, so fortunate and proud to be part of the Indian cricket team and serving the nation.

Knowing all of you guys, I know you will continue to serve the nation in the right spirit and right values. I believe we have been the lucky ones to be chosen by the Almighty to serve this sport. Each generation gets this opportunity to take care of this sport and serve it to the best of our ability. I have full faith in you to continue to serve the nation in the right spirit and to the best of your ability, to bring all the laurels to the country. All the very best.

I would be failing in my duties if I did not thank all the doctors, the physios, the trainers, who have put this difficult body together to go back on the field and be able to play. The amount of injuries that I have had in my career, I don't know how you have managed to keep me fit, but without your special efforts, it would never have happened. The doctors have met me at weird hours. I mean I have called them from Mumbai to Chennai, Mumbai to Delhi, I mean wherever. They have just taken the next flight and left their work and families to be with me, which has allowed me to play. So a big thank you to all three of you for keeping me in good shape.

My dear friend, late Mark Mascarenhas, my first manager. We unfortunately lost him in a car accident in 2001, but he was such a well-wisher of cricket, my cricket, and especially Indian cricket. He was so passionate. He understood what it takes to represent a nation and gave me all the space to go out and express myself, and never pressurised me to do this ad or promotion or whatever the sponsors demanded. He took care of that and today I miss him, so thank you Mark for all your contribution.

My current management team, WSG, for repeating what Mark has done, because when I signed the contract I exactly told them what I want from them, and what it requires to represent me. They have done that and respected that.

Someone who has worked closely with me for 14 years is my manager, Vinod Nayudu. He is more like my family and all the sacrifices, spending time away from his family for my work, has been special, so big thank you to his family as well for giving up so much time for my work with Vinod.

In my school days, when I performed well, the media backed me a lot. They continue to do that till this morning. Thank you so much to the media for supporting and appreciating my performances. It surely had a positive effect on me. Thank you so much to all the photographers as well for those wonderfully captured moments that will stay with me for the rest of my life, so a big thank you to all the photographers.

I know my speech is getting a bit too long, but this is the last thing I want to say. I want to thank all the people here who have flown in from various parts of the world, and have supported me endlessly, whether I scored a 0 or a 100-plus. Your support was so dear to me and meant a lot to me. Whatever you have done for me.

I know I have met so many guys who have fasted for me, prayed for me, done so much for me. Without that life wouldn't have been like this for me. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, and also say that time has flown by rather quickly, but the memories you have left with me will always be with me forever and ever, especially "Sachin, Sachin" which will reverberate in my ears till I stop breathing. Thank you very much. If I have missed out on saying something, I hope you understand. Goodbye."

So Sachin's 200th Test match comes to an end. The end of a truly great playing career.

The test was wholly dedicated to Sachin by BCCI and dubbed as SRT200. Thanks to BCCI's efforts of a grand farewell - the Test and the period preceding it was maniacally covered by news agencies. It all culminates with Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar getting the Bharat Ratna.

Will I be lynched for saying that the coverage and BCCI should be equally commended for Sachin's Bharat Ratna as Sachin's efforts on the field?