Friday, 30 October 2009

In a nutshell ...

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

- Where the Mind is Without Fear, Rabindranath Tagore.

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing, have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves; they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

- from page 147 of the book "Addiction by Prescription"by Joan Gadsby

IF you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,Or being hated, don't give way to hating,And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

- IF, rudyard kipling.

ओळखलत का  सर मला  .. पावसात  आला  कोणी,
कपडे  होते  कर्दमलेले  केसांवरती  पाणी,
क्षणभर  बसला  नंतर  हसला  बोलला  वरती  पाहून,
गंगामाई  पाहुणी  आली  गेली  घरट्यात  राहुन,
माहेरवाशीण  पोरि सारखी  चार  भिंतीत  राहिली,
मोकळ्या हाती  जाईल  कशी  बायको  मात्र  वाचली,
भिंत  खचली  चुल  विजली  होते  नव्हते  गेले,
प्रसाद  म्हणून  पापण्यांमध्ये  पाणी तेवढे  ठेवले,
कारभारणीला  घेउन  संगे  सर  आता  लढतो  आहे,
पडकी  भिंत  बांधतो  आहे  चिखल  गाळ  काढतो  आहे,
खिशाकडे  हात  जाताच  हसत  हसत  उठला,
पैसे  नको  सर  जरा  एक्तेपणा  वाटला,
मोडून  पडला  संसार  तरी  मोडला  नाही  कणा,
पाठीवरती  हात  ठेवून  नुसतं  लध  म्हणा.

- कणा , कुसुमाग्रज

- देव देव्हाऱ्यात नाही, Sudhir Phadke

Monday, 26 October 2009

A Welsh Diwali

The idea of applying for host had germinated even while I was in Imperial in 2006/7. It took more than two years to take root. The idea of soaking in british culture and getting to know more about english people has always been high on my agenda. And host provides just that.

So with a glimmer of light visible at the end of the phd tunnel, and effectively an end to the bliss state of life called 'student-life' in sight, I decided to apply for host in September this year.

The application moved swiftly and I was intimated that my 'host' family would be somewhere in Wales. After a lull in communication for a while, I finally learnt (towards the end of september) that I would be hosted by the Nocks. Now the Nocks are a joint family - Roland and Margaret in their 40s, 18-yr old son michael, 16-year old Rachel, a dog, 6 ducks, 3 ducklings, 3 rats. or so I was told in the introductory mail. I was immidiately excited.

On calling up Roland, I realised that Roland and Rachel had been to India just this summer for a month. The idea was for Rachel to get a feel of Indian culture. And Roland and Margaret had been to India 13 years ago, when they had also stayed in pune for couple of days. Roland guided me about the possible transport links and indicated that the national express bus stop was just 15 minutes walk from their place. So Off I went to the University travel centre to get a discounted ticket from Southampton to Cross Hands. Cross Hands is a small village near the town of Llanelli (dont bother pronouncing it .. its welsh :) in carmarthenshire county. Roland, in his own thoughtful way, also made the kind offer for me to stay for 3 nights instead of the normal 2 nights, since the journey would take almost 8 hours.

With the 16th of october drawing closer, I bought my first digital camera - a canon powershot, with just a week to go. It was Rachels' birthday that week and Michaels birthday the week after. So my thoughts lingered upon an appropriate gift for the family. After toying with handbags, indian sweets, books etc., I zoomed in on my default choice - A spitfire calendar, spitfire bookmark and a 3-propeller model of spitfire which also doubles up as a pencil sharpener - from the local Hall of Aviation. While the real 5-propeller spitfire would have required servicing, the showcase model costs £125 - both unrealistic :).

On the day of leaving - I read the 'how to be a perfect guest' guidlines from host website - switched off my mobile diligently - and before I knew the bus halted at Bristol where I was to change for the bus to Swansea. Before reaching bristol, the bus winds through Bath, and the signs of roman architecture are unmistakable. Finally, I think, I can 'feel' the difference between Roman architecture and the Victroian buildings of central london.

Bristol to Swansea was eventful - for my ears. Surrounding me in the bus was a group of mantralaya politicians. Needless to say discussions reveolved around projected margins of victory, who supported whom ( कुणी कुणाच्या पाठी मागचा हात काढुन घेतला), why booth capturing is not as rampant in maharashtra as in bihar and so on. To save them further embarrasment, I introduced myself in मराठी. That did curb down the decibel levels and discussions, but not before I learnt some disturbing facts - these people come to UK every year for holidays , next years' holiday plans were in iceland, the seniormost of these guys throws a party every year in birmingham - including drinks, this chap stays in a £95/night service apartment when here, both alcohol and money seems to flow from his hands (did I read somewhere that farmers commit suicide in maharashtra). Sorry for the digression, but I was pretty animated by the time these chaps got down in Cardiff on the way. And without saying 'good-bye' - I should add for the record. It is pretty offensive for a english-man to have people leaving you without saying a polite good-bye. No english person in his right senses would leave, after being introduced to him, without saying a polite good-bye. But alas, these were thick-skinned mantralay-is.

At Cross Hands, Michael and Margaret recieved me at the bus stop. A leisurely 15 min walk takes one to the Nock home. On the way, Margaret showed me the local cinema and old-age residential home. Margaret, being a nurse by profession is interested in topics like state of the goverment run health service here, what options do elderly have in their senility etc. She narrated to me a couple of cases about a 37-year old person who couldnt look after himself and was asked to move in an old-age home with all 60+ people around him. Pretty difficult situations. Margaret works in night shifts 3 days a week. Night shifts pay more.

I started my investigation of local economy by posing questions about local employement. Apparently this village was once a thriving coal economy. With time, the hills as well as coal reserves dissapeared and so has much of the poulation. Leaving behind a calm, contented rural area. Everyone in the village seems to know everyone else. what a beautiful feeling. I was introduced to quite a few dogs on the way - some playing in backyards with children, some peeping curiously at me out of the windows. Ya, I was the only stranger in town :)

I forget the names of the dogs. But how can I forget 'Woody' - the 3-legged, 1-eyed sentinel of the Nock home. Woody was supposedly shot in the eye around 7 years ago, presumably when chasing sheep, by a farmer (it is legal in this part of the world to shoot a dog if he chases sheep) and subsequently must have been run over by a vehicle. But this is life - and there is a silver lining - Woody found his present family - the Nocks, a beautiful family.

In this part, they also have dinner around 6.30 pm. So by the time we reached home, it was supper time. Roland is the cook of the house - or shall I say, the best cook in the house, to quote Margaret. Like she says - Woody is the best dog in the house. Cooking apart, Roland takes care of household chores - buying stuff from supermarket, fixing the roof, clearing the table, washing the cutlery.

My first english meal - Vegetable soup with bread, followed by Masala rice with pickle. On the dinner table, I was introduced to Rachel - sweet 16 and sweet otherwise. After meal, we cosied ourselves (all of us: ) around the fireplace. The Nock home is presumably a 1850s place - battered over the years, but still standing proud and warm. Imagine walls flooded by books - a terry pratchett here, a paul coelho there, from 'killing a mocking bird' 'to Sir, with love', 365 ways to make world a better place to Einstein, all varieties of the bible, an introduction to hinduism, visitor guides to all countries, from gordon ramsays' recipes to the best in indian recipes - I was overwhelmed. Atlas Shrugged. Was i feeling like Alice in wonderland ? Even the toilet has a book-shelf. No exaggeration. You will only understand what I am saying if you ever squeeze into the Nocks small hall with a firplace, a computer, an incubator for chicks, hundreds of books on one of the side walls, and the 5 of us.

Roland enquired about how I came to the UK - how I got settled and so on. Memories flooded back to my Imperial days. Roland offered wine - but I preffered coffee. Rachel and Michael did have wine.
Small talk drifted to fine nuances of catholicism (nocks are catholics) and anglican church. From rome to london. Roland had been to Gaya and I described my fascination of Ajanta and Ellora. Beautiful talk this - I would relish it. And so on we chatted upto midnight. The Nocks knew a lot about India - they have travelled on the trains - from Kalka to Shimla, from Nagpur to calcutta, calcutta to gorakhpur and so on .. Had it not been for my south indian adventure oddessey late in 2003, the Nocks would have known more about India than me :). and in some sense, they still do. They have been to puntamba village, I havent. They have seen people make candles - as their only source of light at night - I havent. So it was interesting, to say the least, to learn about my backyard from people born thousands of miles away. That is beauty.

An then the best part of the trip - I still get goose-bumps thinking of it - I watched the Milky way galaxy across the sky for the first time in my life. All the years I had heard that it takes a clear winter nights sky away from city lights to see the Milky way - and now I know. Me, Roland and Woody identified the summer triangle - deneb, vega, altair, cassiopiea, perseus, jupiter, castor, pollux, I was wondering if we could see the black hole at the center of milky way in saggitaurus. After a short walk through the neighbourhood and woody having finished his chores, we were back to cosiness and warmth.

Margaret wished me 'Nos da' before going to bed.

The Irish lessons continued the next morning when Margaret and Roland took me to the economic area of the village - the biggest shops in the village. Roland bought stuff for fixing a leaking roof that was dampening up a whole wall in the kitchen. These people here are extremely DIY (do-it-yourself). Unlike us, they dont call plumbers, carpenters to fix stuff - they just do it themselves. I like it. I wander through the shop looking at DIY equipment.

It is decided I will walk back home with Margaret and woody since Roland has some more shopping to do. For the first time, I take the leash on Woody. As Woody wandered around, margaret continued reading the welsh signs to me and explaining their meaning. I did not know Welsh is such a different language. I used to think it is just a variant of English. But no - its all gyr, Dim and gyyffl and stuff. The pronouncation is very different too.

On the way back, Margaret narrated me stories related to each house on the way. Woody came across two boxer breeds on the way and was pretty animated. I handed over the leash temporarily to Margaret.

Back at home, Roland had already prepared soup and rajma curry for us. With the stomach content, I dozed off the rest of the afternoon lazily even as Roland was busy waterproofing the terrace. The siesta meant I was alive and kicking in the evening to participate in discussions. Roland showed how to make paper planes and helicopters. He said this is how he communicated with children on indian railways and they used to love it. Last night I had showed interest in Margarets' activity - spinning. And today I was given lessons in 'plying'. Proud to say that I mastered the art of 'plying' fibres on the miniature 'charkha'. I realised once you get the knack of the activity, it is a very fruitful excercise - is spinning - helps to focus the mind. Perhaps that is what Gandhiji wanted to convey, we concluded. All this while Michael was busy playing some computer game and Rachel delved into a Terry pratchett novel.

Evening meal was special - with candles on the table to remind me it was lakshmi pujan. Me, Rachel and michael played as much as we could with the wax flowing around. Michael made a new candle out of recycled wax and we made Margaret proud :). Margaret is big time into recycling and sustainable technology. She is part of the local group called 'Transition Time', making strategies for a oil-free future.

Towards night, Margaret showed be what a Moebius band is. She made one out of paper and asked me to cut it along the center line. On the first iteration, it leads to ... (DIY) and on the second iteration, one ends up with two inter-twined loops. It took me until next morning to figure out the mathematics of the moebius, whence I presented it to her over the morning coffee.

Margaret was impressed. She narrated to me funny tales of previous guests (ya, I wasnt the first person to be hosted by the Nocks) being apprehensive that the Moebius thing is some kind of mystic magic. I was 'thinking' - resisted the temptation to blurt out my new found 'theory of everything'.

It was sunday morning. I asked permission to take Woody for a walk - and the Nocks laughed. "Woody would not go out with Michael and Rachel - he goes out only with Roland", said Margaret. But seeing my persuation, I was allowed to attempt. And so me and woody went for a distant walk, past shops, newsagents, a childrens park, right upto a cemetry some 15 min away, until he wanted to go back. On the way, I was stopped by a couple of elderly ladies (aka Queen Elizabeth). They presumably knew the dog and were thus very curious - "You are not the owner of the dog - are you?". So I had to impress them with my story and background and how I got Woody to come along with me. They were impressed and wished me all the best.

When we reached back home, Woody wanted to walk even more. so I called Roland and a surprised Roland, joined us for the rest of the walk. Apparently this was a new Nock household record - Woody going for a walk with a stranger.

Margaret asked me if I would like to join for the church service and I jumped at the idea. My first experience of a church service. Felt very beautiful. learnt a bit about Luke. And more importantly, got introduced to Brenda, the grumpiest granny in town (in margarets' words). Margaret treats Brenda as her mother and inverse. Brenda stays alone in a beautiful bungalow. Margaret was telling me how last winter Brendas' walkway was covered with snow and she had to send Michael and Rachel to clear it - and how Brenda detested the help.

Very nice to talk to Brenda. She enquired about my studies and wished me all the best.

Continuing from the church, me, Woody, Roland and Margaret went for a walk in the countryside and to Paxton Tower overlooking the countryside. Perched atop a cute hill, Paxton tower was built by a showy local to treat his guests to lavish dinners. It used to overlook his countryside house - now it overlooks a big greenhouse. Margaret was telling me that at one time is was the biggets greenhouse in britain. From atop paxton tower we enjoyed views of the rustic carmarthenshire countryside. The hills are nowhere as rolling and high as the South downs or the Lake district, but retain their own charm.

Now came another memorable part of the trip.

Margaret is taking part in a weaving competition. The idea is to recycle an existing cloth and make a new one. So Margaret pulled apart an old coat and is sewing a cosy sweater for a 3-year old. She has the incumbent child in mind, but doesnt have the exact measurments. so off we head in search of carol. Carols parents' Richard and stacey must be the most amazing couple I have heard about. They stay in a wooden house (aka Flintstones) in the countryside - I fall short of words here. A rivulet runs through - they plant their own things - make their own bread. Everything is sustainable. The fuel they use for their car is bio-fuel made from recycled vegetable oil. Roland showed me their mechanical workshop - complete with a foot-operated lathe. A winding dragon made out of wood - now hidden by wild shrubs - A thatched roof shed - spiralling wooden logs line the ceiling like spokes on a bicycle wheel. And Carol is home - educated.

On the way back, Roland takes me to the 'Farm shop' - one of the biggest shops in the county. Margaret had previously explained to me its history - how it was owned by cousins - and I cleared my fundas about who are called 'farmers' - one who grow crops or one who rear sheep. I am still confused. Anyways, these were the 'sheep' variety of farmers. And Roland wanted me to try the 'stinking bishop' - the most stinking cheese in wales.

Back at Nock home, Michael was busy figuring out the objective of his computer game, I found a rubic cube to while away time, while Roland cooked. I had my first taste of home-made yorkshire pudding.

That evening we spent time reliving the 70s british tv series on which Margaret and Roland were brought up. From wombies to clangers, Dr. Who to 'who do you think you are', 'Goodness gracious me' to listening to ukulele band, youtube has all. I liked the clangers and their innocent world-view. Roland wanted me to hear the vividh-bharati equivalent of radio - the music played at 5.30 am on bbc - a combination of welsh, english, scottish and irish. We talked politics - how to become a 'lord', the 'cash for honors' saga, the protest permit requirment for protesting in westminster square and so on. Michael seems interetsed in forming a political party.

It remained to make use of my new photographing machine - and so I clicked the silver apple yards (variety of ducks) , hens - Roland showed me how he feeds them and looks for eggs everyday, the muscovies and the quails (breaking news: eaten by a fox :( ). . I gradauted from eating the nasturcium flower to eating the spicier seed pod. I graduated from eating bluberries to eating sloes.

I graduated from plying to spinning - and failed. Spinning fibre from raw wool is not straight-forward. And I ended up tangling a bunch of wool until it was knotted into itself. Finally I gave up - it was a better idea to watch 'Phantom of the Opera' played on TV by Rachel - than struggling a ball of yarn.

I was already having a sore throat by then and feeling extremely sleepy. It was time to say 'Nos da' one final time. A final adieu to Michael and Rachel - with an invitation to visit India in 2020 - to see a different India. By this time, Michael had figured out the purpose of his computer game - or precisely, the purpose of the character he was controlling in the game - 'to save the universe'. I wished Michael luck and best wishes for his birthday - which was now an agonising 90 minutes away. But I had to sleep. For I had to catch the 5.10 am bus next day.

All that remained was to write up a farwell message in Margarets' visitor book. Which I duly did early next morning -
I am carrying with me memories to treasure for a lifetime -
Of Roland, the best cook in the house ..
Of Michael and Rachel, the most well-behaved children in the house ..
Of Margaret, the best spinner in the house ...
And last but not the least,
Woody, the best dog in the house.

At 5 in the morning chill, Margaret walked me back past the cinema and the old-age residential home to the stop where she had recieved me only 60 hours back - what a 60 hours !
Heartfelt thanks to the Nocks for giving me a peek into their wonderfully natural world. I will never forget Richard and Staceys place and the lessons it rings for a sustainable future.
So was my festival of lights this year - unique and beautiful.

Quotable quotes

जसं politics चे महत्व कळायला ’ रंग दे बसंती ’ बघायची गरज नव्हती,
तसं आयुष्या वर नेहमी हसायच असतं हे उमगायला britain मधे यायची गरज नव्ह्ती.

A teachers work, at any rate, is not to put a lid on a pupils' imagination.

School is a place where both teachers and students learn -
teachers through students questions,
students through teachers answers.

जसा समाजाचा बदल घरातून सुरु होतो,
माणसाचा बदल मनातून सुरु होतो.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Quotable Quotes

Beauty is the hallmark of Truth.