As I write this, I keep a watchful eye on the TV. It’s fifteen minutes to the Olympics 2012 closing ceremony. It feels surreal. Wasn’t it only yesterday I sat in front of the TV with Bubbles and friends watching the opening ceremony? I remember the surprise, then the incredulity which turned to amused wonderment when the Queen appeared with James Bond. I remember peals of laughter ringing in my ears when the all too familiar Mr. Bean played the repetitive staccato in the Chariot of Fire’s theme song. Most of all I remember being there, among the live audience; and then watching expectantly from one scene to another recalling what I had already seen.
Yes, I was there! I was there for the opening ceremony dress rehearsal on Wednesday, two days before the actual opening ceremony. I had the privilege of being there with thousands of others, privy to what became a well-kept secret; amazingly.
A tree up on a hill, representing Glastonbury Thor, suddenly uprooted from the ground. It was as spectacular as it was unexpected!
Next, the Industrial Revolution literally packed up the agrarian society.
Tall chimneys rose from the ground, as miners and construction workers laboured diligently at every corner.
These rings rose in a brilliant display of fireworks. I must admit this part looked better on tv as the aerial view showed us the five Olympics rings, not quite visible from the stadium.
As spectators of the dress rehearsal were not privy to all the details of the Opening Ceremony, we were not informed of one of the best highlights of the ceremony: the Queen’s guest appearance with the iconic James Bond. But all that we got was a brilliant display of lights and the James Bond theme music.
From here onwards, I started neglecting my camera. It’s always a dilemma of mine: do I immerse myself in the experience and let my memory do the photographing, or do I break my attention away from the scene to look through the lens of the camera?
Anyway, I managed a few more shots…
As I said, it only feels like I was there yesterday and it is already the Closing Ceremony. Memories aside, the whole Olympics ceremony at my doorstep has taught me about the greatness of us humans. Aren’t we capable of achieving anything we set our minds to, regardless of our circumstances?
And there can’t be a better reminder of this than the next event: the Paralympics.
Allow me to digress from my recent travel blogging to write about one of the most overused, borrowed Sanskrit word in the English language: karma. Its use in English is somewhat more arbitrary compared to the original word, but in essence is accurate.
In the western world, karma means to face retribution for your actions some time in the future. For example, someone would say something like, ‘karma will get you for that’ when they think you have done something bad and should suffer the consequences one day.
In the eastern world, given that the word karma has its roots in Hinduism, it is linked with the cycle of rebirth and transcends all time and space continuum. It does not necessarily have negative connotations the way it is used in the west. The belief is that one can accumulate both good and bad karma: good karma will benefit you with good health, family, finances; basically the capacity to attain both material and spiritual wealth in your life. Bad karma will provide you with obstacles or problems that will aim to teach you a lesson you failed to learn in your past life.
There is something about karma that is so intriguing and mystifying…many people who believe in reincarnation attempt to unravel the mysteries of their past by going to priests and fortune-tellers who profess the ability to delve into their past lives. My extended family is no exception to this! Many of them have returned from India with stories of their past; some sound plausible while others possibly contrived by bogus priests to milk their egos, then fleece them. No doubt that all of them seek their past in earnest, to find out how they can right the wrongs of the past, but stories of a royal past are likely to inflate the most humble of egos. Wouldn’t we all like to hear that we were once a beautiful princess or a mighty warrior?
Whether these stories are true or not, one story I heard is chillingly thought-provoking. One of my cousins has been plagued by a chronic illness from the time he was a child. Being an illness that is not medically curable, my uncle and aunt turned towards Eastern medicine and all things esoteric in the hope that something would miraculously cure their son. One day, they solicited the advise of a fortune-teller to unearth his past life. After all, by the law of karma, he must have done something bad in his past life to suffer such a fate at a young age in this life.
They were told their son was previously born in India, to a very rich merchant. Upon the death of this father, he cheated his many brothers and sisters out of their family fortune. The bickering sons and daughters had called for a panchayat (village meeting) to equitably divide their wealth, however, their son, being an influential man in the village had coerced the village Head to decree that all wealth should go to him. Seething with wrath, his brothers and sisters had cursed him to a lifetime of suffering, and it was this curse that he was experiencing in this life. In downcast resignation, my uncle then told the fortune-teller, fair enough that his son was suffering the burden of his past karma, but why was he suffering everyday, watching his son being ill?
The fortune-teller then told him, ‘you were the village Head.’
Today in history (2nd October) is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. I must say that my earlier memories of Gandhi are from watching Ben Kingsley play him in Gandhi, so much so that the thought of Gandhi would conjure up images of Ben Kingsley in my mind, rather than Gandhi himself. I never thought of him as more than a freedom fighter for his country, however, upon reading the Autobiography of a Yogi in my late teens, I realised that this seemingly frail man was nothing but, for he had nerves of steel and a will of iron, and he was more than just a freedom fighter.
When I went to India this year, I decided that visiting the Gandhi smriti was a must, as it would be such a surreal experience to step foot on a place where he lived the final days of his life and was assassinated. I am glad I did, as it rekindled the interest I had in him and I went on to buy his autobiography, ‘The Story of my Experiments with Truth’ which has given me further insights to the kind of person he was.
I had always thought of Gandhi to be this near-perfect man, and I had assumed that the virtues he displayed later in life were ingrained in him from young. This is partly true, but he was not a man without his faults. He gives a highly critical account of his own actions in his autobiography. Here are some of his past transgressions (or failures) which show quite a different side of this man.
When Gandhi was young, he regarded truth as the highest of all virtues. He vowed to always speak the truth, however, he had a friend who was a bad influence on him and got the better of him. Being a small-framed boy, Gandhi was always envious of other boys who were much taller and bigger than him. His ‘bad’ friend told him that they were all big because they ate meat whereas Gandhi was not because he was a vegetarian. This made a mark in Gandhi’s impressionable young mind, and after constant cajoling from his friend, Gandhi started eating meat without his family’s knowledge. Funny how we all twist the rules we judge others by when it comes to applying it ourselves, and Gandhi was no exception to this. He reasoned that by keeping his meat-eating a secret from his family, he was not being untruthful as he was not exactly telling a lie. This went on for quite some time until one day he could not bear to continue living a lie and confessed to his father.
Gandhi was betrothed at a very young age, as was the custom then, and left his wife and son behind when he went to England to further his studies. The Indian students in England who were all casualties of child marriages did not tell others that they were married, for they were embarrassed about it especially since all the English students were bachelors. Another reason was because by pretending to be bachelors, they could flirt with the young girls of the families they lived with. Gandhi also pretended to be a bachelor and as a result, his landlady used to invite him to many gatherings so he could get acquainted with young ladies. Finally one day, the burden of his lie became too much to bear and he confessed to his landlady that he was married. Even though he never cheated on his wife, he considered this untruth a serious transgression as he was not only misleading others, but because he allowed himself to be in a position where one moment of weakness could have been disastrous.
Gandhi was a barrister by profession but unfortunately he did not provide his sons with a similar level of mainstream education. One of his sons especially was extremely sore about this and even publicly criticised his father for his failure to educate him. In his autobiography, Gandhi reasons that he wanted his sons to be exposed to the public work that he was doing, and felt that that would expose them to an invaluable lesson about being of service to others. He provided them with some basic education by teaching them himself. I was quite surprised when I read this but realised that he had the best of intentions when he made this decision for his children.
So, it turns out Gandhi was not this perfect man I thought him to be after all. He made some mistakes along the way, but by being highly critical of himself and through self-introspection, he was able to learn from his mistakes and lead as much a virtuous life as humanly possible. To tell you the truth, I feel a lot better about myself after reading his book, because it gives me hope! I now realise that even though I am not perfect, I don’t have to give up trying to improve myself spiritually; that I can make mistakes and learn from them and my past mistakes would not necessarily doom me for births to come (from a Hindu perspective). I may have done a lot of things in the past I am not proud of, but at least I have realised my mistakes and repented. To me, and millions of other people, Gandhi was not just a freedom fighter but a saint. And what are saints but sinners who never give up.
The Notting Hill Carnival in London is the largest festival celebration of its kind in Europe. It has been held every August bank holiday since 1966, initially set up on a small scale by the West Indian community and latterly transforming itself to a full blown Caribbean carnival.
The carnival is one of the most vibrant in London, with colourful parades, booming music and swaying hips lining the streets of West London. It is a haven for budding photographers like me, as it provides an opportunity to capture the vivid colours, the people in grand costumes and the street celebrations that are the next best thing to the Rio De Janeiro Carnival …all at my very own backyard.
Being there amidst the crowds, I was transported back to my teenage years of witnessing the processions during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival that is celebrated every year by Hindus. It is characterised by the same vibrant colours, loud music, street dancing and food; but the difference lies in the fact that Thaipusam is a religious festival whereas the carnival is a cultural celebration.
It was quite amusing to note that not much has changed in the way I experience these processions in all these years. (I reckon that’s a good thing, because it means I’m still young at heart!) 😉 My disdain still exists for loud, booming music. I had to cover my ears when the lorries went past us, playing music so loud I bet they set new thresholds in the decibel scale. Back then, my cousins and I used to be surreptitiously on the lookout for cute guys (surreptitious because our parents used to be standing right next to us!), this time round my friend and I were (openly) eyeing well-sculpted, bare-chested men taking part in the processions! I still have a thing for roadside stalls, as there is something about munching while walking and having unlimited food supply every 100 metres! Sweet desserts used to dominate my palate during Thaipusam while it was sugar cane at the recent carnival. Back then we would religiously end our Thaipusam walkabout at the temple, whereas this time I ended our carnival walkabout after religiously taking some photos!
Here are some photos I took at the carnival.
“What kind of a person are you?” I’m sure you have come across many personality tests that aim to decipher the kind of person you are by asking a few questions and assessing your personality based on the answers you give.
Well, I’ve got one for you. But unlike all those long-winded personality tests, this one is simple…very simple, trust me! All I ask is “What kind of person are you?” Now pick your answer from the 13 choices below, then read further below to find out what it means to be the person you think you are. You can pick more than one answer, I don’t mind, as long as you don’t peek at the answers first. Good luck!
And here are the answers…prepare to be baffled…
1. Shy – One who farts, then blushes.
2. Proud – One who only likes the smell of his/her own fart.
3. Amiable – One who likes the smell of everyone’s fart.
4. Intellectual – One who can determine the smell of his/her neighbour’s dog’s fart.
5. Impudent – One who farts, then laughs out loud.
6. Sensitive – One who farts, then starts crying.
7. Unfortunate – One who tries to fart but shits instead.
8. Dishonest – One who farts, then blames the dog.
9. Grateful – One who farts, then thanks God for being able to.
10. Sadistic – One who farts under the duvet, then covers his/her partner with it.
11. Righteous – One who farts, then gives a medical reason for it.
12. Honest – One who farts, then owns up to it before even anyone can smell it.
13. Clever – One who conceals his/her fart by laughing loudly when farting.
Hello reader! See the photo and caption above? Did it inspire you? Invoke tenderness? Did it provoke your thoughts: Who is that duck? What was it doing near the pond? What was going through its duck-mind? Did you laugh out loud when you read the caption? Did you feel envy, wishing that you could come up with catchy captions like that for your photos? I can picture you, dear reader, nodding your head while reading this…I can. For I know I’ve snapped a photo, no, caught a moment, that might even make Steve Bloom do a double-take on this photo! *cough*
So imagine my shock, horror, bewilderment, when this very photo I submitted to the UKTV Eden photo competition for 2011 did not make it through the shortlist. Have you heard of such travesty? I know, it’s ridiculous! Well, let me take you through the kind of photos that made it through the shortlist, then you can check out the link if you want and cringe at the sheer injustice of it all.
The winner: A shot of a thistledown against the sunset.
I can almost hear you click your tongue in disapproval. Who shoots thistledown? (and gets a prize for that?!) Someone who can’t venture out further than their back garden? Tch! Where I come from, you probably use Roundup on it!
Second photo: King Penguins in Antarctica
If you had to choose, you’d probably go for this between the two. But compared to my photo, what is so special about this? Thousands of penguins just standing and looking at each other for lack of anything to do in the Antarctica. You know what…I think the photographer won this out of sympathy. I bet the blurb in his/her submission says he/she lost a finger from frostbite in the Antarctica…yada yada…
Third photo: Dolphin in the sea
This is going to be the last one I explain. I can’t take it anymore. I seriously hope this photo didn’t win third place. You can see a hint of a dolphin from the surface of the water. It’s so bad, I can’t even find anything to say other than it’s so bad!
Next year, I’m not going to bother with amateur photo competitions (you don’t want to win those, anyway). I’m going to target the Big Boys worthy of my photos: National Geographic. *cough*
This is a good read! It reminds of the good ol’ days we grew up in: before the age of over-protectiveness and under-disciplining!
You’re not a true Indian if you don’t have a handful of palmists, numerologists or astrologers in your extended family! I have the pleasure of having all three at varying levels of specialism both on the maternal and paternal side of the family. Mind you, none of them are professionals, but merely enthusiasts in these fields. Not a family gathering goes by without someone wanting to read your palm or theorising that your name has been spelt wrongly and therefore you are doomed for disaster in your life.
“If only my name had been spelt as ‘Mieraa’ instead of ‘Meera’, things might have been quite different in my life” my cousin would say, and by a furtive glance at her parents hint that they are to blame for her lukewarm life. (yes dear reader, now you know why there are some Indians with very strangely spelt names hanging around – blame the numerologists!) Meera is a self-confessed numerology geek and has even converted her family and other relatives into believing numerology writes your destiny. Many newborn nephews and nieces have been christened with names with complicated spellings, thanks to Meera, or should I say ‘Mieraa’, in case she’s reading this!
The family’s affiliation with all things esoteric does not end there. I have two uncles who are palmists. One uncle, Krishnan, picked up the skill after reading many palmistry books. The other uncle Nantha, oddly inherited the gift, along with a sixth sense after being involved in a near-death accident that kept him in a coma for weeks. This one I am quite wary of as he is capable of reading your mind and telling you your deepest secrets! Uncle Nantha can predict your future better than any trained astrologer I know. He doesn’t even need an astrology book or astrology software on the computer to refer to. Of course, not everything he says has come true, but there is a degree of accuracy that can be quite disturbing. He has accurately predicted births, marriages, separations and he even accurately predicted my brother would be stomped by an elephant. No, just kidding, though once upon a time I wished an elephant would smother my brother’s face with its arse as he was such a pain in the… arse!
I have two other uncles who don’t make major decisions or purchases without consulting the Indian Almanac. By now, you are probably thinking that I have lunatics for a family, but I assure you, the rest of them are alright! Why planetary positions would have an effect on the things you buy, I have no idea, but I think it has something to do with the vibrations at the time you purchase something. It’s based on the gravitational theory that all mass have a force on another mass, and just as one planet has a force on another planet, it also has a force on us as we are beings with mass. And this force can be either positive or negative.
I must say that I have more faith in astrology than in numerology or palmistry. Astrologers have in the past predicted events in my life with scary accuracy, but unfortunately it’s mostly the bad things that end up being true! Indian astrology can be so accurate that it even accurately predicts your age when you die. Both my parents passed away at exactly the age some astrologer predicted their death. (by the way, I don’t know when I’ll die and I intend to keep it that way!!)
Numerology on the other hand, I just don’t understand – especially when it comes to counting the numbers the letters in your name add up to – and determining your fate based on it. I think numerology that assesses your birth date and year of birth can be quite accurate when it comes to predicting your character and physical countenance, though I’m not sure what use it is to go around assessing someone’s character when you could do that anyway after spending some time with the person. Perhaps it serves a purpose for those who seek arranged marriages, although these days even those with perfect matches end up separating. But let me move on – it’s not the bone I want to pick. My displeasure is with the numerology related to names: how could an Indian’s name spelt with Latin-based letters carve your fate in stone? After all if you are an Indian, whether your name is spelt ‘Meera’ or ‘Mieraa’, it would be spelt the same way in Tamil, or Hindi, or in any other Indian script. So what does it matter how it is spelt in English? Besides, a lot of Indians name their children according to the sounds that are harmonious with their astrological birth charts. Meera’s parents, for example, gave her that name because her astrological birth chart was harmonious with the sounds ‘Ma’ or ‘Mi’ and they chose a name that started with ‘Mi’. And what about Westerners? Take eminent and successful westerners like Bill Gates or Tony Blair: did their parents consult numerologists before naming them? Or did their names coincidentally add up to their lucky number? It’s a weak case, isn’t it this numerology of names! Cue Indians stop giving your kids weirdly spelt names!
Now to palmistry. I know some palmists predict events in your life that can be quite accurate, but I find that palmistry refers to the ‘now’ and the ‘near future’ of your life and your aspirations at the time of reading. My uncle Krishnan looked at my palm when I was 11 and said I would grow up and become a doctor. I was so happy when he said that, as that was exactly what I had wanted to be. Unfortunately, his prediction did not become a reality.
Why are we Indians so obsessed with these three things? I think it is because a lot of Indians believe in karma and that our past lives shape our present, and that our lives are predestined. Or maybe it’s curiosity. Or maybe we are afraid of failure.
Whatever it is, funny enough, I think the answer to life does lie in palmistry: that your fate is in YOUR hands.