A voyage to Sea of Poppies

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My week-long voyage to Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh was full of excitement,adventure, learning and joy. Set in the historical backdrop of mid-nineteenth century the novel’s canvas is as wide as an ocean, carrying in its womb multitudes of stories, characters, themes, locations, languages…… yet remaining placid, cool and calm.

I became interested in the book after reading a reference to the opium factories in Gazipur and Patna in one of book’s reviews. I already knew that the main building of Patna College, much before the college was started in 1863, had been used as an opium factory earlier. 
This led me to embark on the journey of Sea of Poppies with the expectation to sail through the history, language and culture of the places, I thought, were known to me. Flipping through the pages of the book was an exhilarating experience. I got an opportunity to observe the places like Patna, Bakhtiarpur, Monghyr, Teghra, Barauni or objects like Barh ka Lai etc through the prism of a master story teller like Amitav Ghosh. 

However these are only a few of the many items available on the plate of the novel. Just as the white Ganga merges with the Hoogly and finally disappears in the Black Water of the Ocean at Gangasagar, the story  continues through the regions of Bhojpur, Bengal, India, China, England, Europe(the list is long); creating in its wake the conflicts of culture, language, politics and economics, evoking in the reader sympathy, love, hate, humour and nostalgia for a bygone era. 
Reading the novel is like having a smooth sail in a dinghy over the surface of a deep sea. 

By the way what happened to Jodu, Kalua, Serang Ali, Neel and Ah Fatt after they escaped in the lifeboat and what was in store for the rest of the characters on the ship named Ibis? I must find out in the next novel of Amitav Ghosh, River of Smoke. My next voyage has already begun. 

©arun jee

photo credit: Wikimedia commons

How to improve Reading

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Read, read and read. Read a newspaper, magazine, editorial, stories, novels if you want to enhance your skill of reading. This was the advice we used to get from our elders. And by and large it was correct.

However if you want to achieve a certain level as a reader within a limited time, then you have to follow a systematic path. The following few tips can help:

First you need to identify what is your level of reading. Reading materials are selected and graded into various levels from easy to difficult. A lot of these materials are available online, free of cost. They can also be purchased from the market. All school textbooks for a language are graded class wise. It’s a different thing that in the same class there may be students of different levels.

But how to identify one’s level? For that one has to pick up the text of a particular level. If there is no difficulty in understanding the text at all, then it’s easier. Move to the next level of difficulty. Similarly if you find that most of the words, phrases or sentences are difficult to understand, then it is a difficult one. Go one level down. Probably the 60/40 rule should apply. If you understand 60 percent of the text and face the challenge of understanding 40 percent, then the level is suitable for you.

The second mantra for reading is variety. You need to read a variety of texts from science, humanities, commerce to sports, markets and more. If you read texts of only one field, then you remain deprived of the vacabulary and sentence structures of other fields. Initially one may find it difficult to enter the unfamiliar terrains. But one should keep on trying to expand one’s interests.

The third is read regularly. You should be able to devote some time to reading every day. Here comes developing your interest in literature handy. Keep the variety of texts in mind but also develop a habit of reading for pleasure. You will not get bored.

©arun jee

Photo credit: Charles Dana Gibson, Wikimedia Commons

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan

Ustad Abdul Karim Khan was one of the legendary singers of Hindustani classical music in India. He was the founder of the famous Kirana Gharana in the traditions of Hindustani classical music. Apart from his immense contribution to music, he represents the cultural unity and diversity of what we know today as India.

He was from Kiryana in UP from where he moved to Baroda in Gujarat. He spent some time as a court singer in the court of Maharaja Sayaji Rao where he fell in love with Tarabai Mane, a member of the royal family of Baroda. After marriage they moved from Baroda to Bombay where the couple lived with their two sons and three daughters. Abdul Karim Khan, however, moved further south to Maharashtra and Karnataka after their separation in 1923. 

The life of Abdul Karim khan is like an open book. He kept on moving from UP to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and other places, performing as well as enriching his style with anything worth that came his way. It is no surprise then that a maestro of Hindustani classical music like him did not hesitate in adopting the features of Carnatic music in his gayaki. He was very open as a teacher too. He also prepared a good number of disciples.

One may not be aware that some of the great singers of Kirana Gharana like Sureshbabu Mane, Hirabai Badodekar and Sarashwati Mane were his children from his wife Tarabai. Before the couple got separated, Sureshbabu Mane was named as Abdul Rahman, Hirabai was Champakali and Sarashwati was Sakina. After the separation Tarabai changed those names by what they are known today. Sureshbabu was the guru of another legendary singer, Dr Prabha Atre.

When Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi ran away from home to learn classical music, his source of inspiration was Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. Bhimsen Joshi  learned under the wings of a legendary disciple of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. His name was Pandit Sawai Gandharv.

Fortunately Abdul Karim khan was born in a period when the recording of music had just started in India, in 1902. More than 30 of his songs were recorded, many of which are still available for the listeners. I enjoy listening to some of his songs that I have. One of them, Jamuna ke teer, is a treat, especially when you listen the same song from his disciple, Sawai Gandharwa as well as from his grand disciple, Bharat Ratna Bhimsen Joshi. The basic structure of the song remains the same but you can also observe the individual differences.

My first encounter with humans

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Yesterday was a painful day for me. I had come out in the open for an evening crawl. The hot day of the rainy season had been followed by a light breeze in the evening. I wanted to breathe the fresh air. I had lived in the dark fissures of my underground home for long. I wanted to enjoy every moment of my crawl.

Suddenly I saw a giant looking creature staring at me from a distance. He looked very similar to the kind of species named human beings about whom my parents had warned me in my childhood. He had covered his body with strange looking materials from neck to the bottom. He could stand like a tree, but unlike us he moved vertically. My parents had conveyed that these humans consider us as their sworn enemies. Whenever or wherever they catch sight of us, they attack and kill us.

I immediately crawled for safety and hid myself under a big iron box kept nearby. From there I could see that the human was still standing. It seemed it was speaking to someone with the help of a device in his one hand. Just then I saw that two other humans arrived on a fast moving machine. They were armed will long sticks, the sight of which sent a chill down my whole body.

My grandfather had once told me that though the human beings consider themselves the most powerful creatures on the earth, most of them worship a superpower named God in various forms. They always pray to God whenever in danger. I wished we also had had such a God to whom I could send my prayers.

Anyway these two well built fellows started searching every nook and corner around. Soon they discovered my hiding place. They overturned the box and surrounded me from two sides. I crouched and left myself to the fate. By that time a few more humans had assembled to watch this whole spectacle. They started talking to one another. Probably they were discussing my fate: whether to kill me or to drive me away. I used this as an opportunity to escape from there and run towards the road.
Thus started the game of hide and seek between me and those lathi clad guys. They were trying to lift me on the stick but I would always escape either to the roads or the bushes. I saw that one of the onlookers was using the same small device that I had seen with the first human, to take an aim at me. Probably they were taking my images which they would show and circulate later as a sign of their victory.

I could not continue dribbling and dodging in this life threatening game for long. I was tired and injured. So I gave up. They held me on a stick and threw me away from ‘their territory’ in the wild of the rice fields across the boundary wall. I fell on an unknown and unfamiliar hard surface with a thud, hurt and humiliated.

I was unable to understand why I had been thrown away from the place where I had lived since my birth. Why do the human beings consider us as their enemies? Why should they kill us or even evict us from the territories which are equally ours? We never offend them or any other species unless provoked. Is it not possible for all the creatures including us and humans to live together in peace and harmony on this Earth? 


This was first published on blogger: https://arunbandana.blogspot.com/2017/07/from-diary-of-snake.html

Photo credit: arun jee, 15 July 2017

Dalrymple’s The Anarchy: a review

‘History is boring’ is a common refrain from students in schools. And one obvious reason is the history books have generally been written by the historians who are skilled in historiography but are unable to connect with the common reader. Very few historians have the ability to build engaging narratives in their books. And William Dalrymple is one of them.

Dalrymple is known today as a leading expert of Indian colonialism in the world. As a historian he knows his job well and he does it too; diligently, effectively. Before taking up the task of writing Dalrymple carries out extensive research analysing diverse sources. Then he weaves the stories of history in such a way that you find his books unputdownable. With every new book that he writes, his canvas widens and the skill of writing matures.

Dalrymple’s The Anarchy is the latest in a series of three books that he has written on the history of the transition of the Mughal rule to the British in India. The other two are The White Mughal and The Last Mughal.

 In The While Mughal Dalrymple focuses on the influence of the Mughal culture on the British officers in the initial period of the British Raj. He has presented the case of an officer posted at Hyderabad to reveal this. The Last Mughal is the story of the 1857 revolt in India with Bahadur Shah Zaffar as a key character. These two books seek to portray the political, cultural and societal aspects of colonial India. 

 The Anarchy, however, is the most prophetic of all. It relates the story of how a trading company, that is East India Company, started ruling over India in 18th century. How it first captured a rich state like Bengal and then consolidated and spread its rule through the whole of the country. 
The book reveals the manner in which EIC used all the means at its command to carry out ‘loot’ in India. The company had been authorised by the British government to have a private army and to wage a war if it was required to fulfil its aim. ‘Its lawyers and MP shareholders slowly and subtly worked to influence and subvert the legislation of Parliament’ through what is known today as corporate lobbying. 

In the Epilogue Dalrymple makes an interesting comparison between the nature of EIC with that of giant companies in the world today. He also uses this comparison to reveal the sinister policies of these companies — साम, दाम, दंड, भेद — which they employ to maintain their monopoly in the markets.


Language is a skill

A language is a skill based subject. It is not like Science or Social Sciences for which understanding of concepts is more important. It is more like swimming, cycling or flying for which mere knowledge and understanding are not enough. The more you use them, the more proficient you become.

It is very important, therefore, that the learners are provided enough opportunities to practice the sub-skills like Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing of the language. But the question is what is Reading and how is it different from the other sub-skills?

If we don’t understand the differences between these sub-skills, then the danger is the learning outcomes might get mixed up. We may assume we are teaching Reading or Listening but in reality we might be teaching Writing and vice versa.


Facts are elusive

The evolution of internet came with the promise of making facts available at the click of a button. But day by day facts are becoming elusive, available only to those who have the skill to trace them.

A fact can be verified by anyone. That Ashok was an Indian king in the ancient period is a known fact supported by evidences and accepted by all. But the moment we say that he was a great king, we are moving away from the fact to an opinion.

A fact speaks for itself. The same may not be true for an opinion. It may be based on facts. It may not be. The fact based opinions can prove to be helpful for a society, while the hollow, unsubstantiated ones can be very harmful.

In today’s world it is pivotal that we foster critical thinking, research skills in young minds by which they are able to distinguish between facts and opinions. To help them understand which opinions are based on facts and which facts are based on opinions so they can make informed decisions.

D C Kala’s book on Jim Corbett

Everybody knows Jim Corbett as a hunter, wildlife expert and as an established writer. But I was more interested to discover the life that he lived at Mokama Ghat, a small village on the bank of Ganga in Bihar. He had spent about 20 years of his life there with the Railways. I wanted to understand his character as a professional and as a human being.

And I was not disappointed. I got one full chapter on that in the book. I did have some knowledge about that though. Corbett himself has described it in the last chapter of his My India. But this book has brought to light several other aspects of his character.

If you want to be a successful human resource manager, you need to take good care of human resource under your command. This book reveals how Corbett used to take care of the needs of the people working under him. He made them work hard, 16 hours a day, and get tons and tons of goods loaded on the ships/rail at Mokama Ghat.

Corbett used to be very compassionate and concerned about the daily needs such as food, income and education of his workers. He was instrumental in opening the first high school in that area with the help of a local person named Ram Sharan who had been closely associated with Corbett.

D C Kala has been able to reveal several of these attributes of Jim Corbett in the book.