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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lessons to be learnt from the Ipad...



My brother in the USA gifted my an Ipad last week. The minimalist aesthetics are great, but boy, is it difficult to work on...To begin with, it seem to have a problem getting on to the Wi-fi network in my house: you keep putting in the network password, and nothing happens. When you do finally get on to the network (which you do when it relents...), you have to wade through one problem after another...the touch screen keypad is next to impossible to work on, every software has to be downloaded through Apple I-tunes, and for some simple software like Realplayer, there are no applications at all..Finally, you cannot chat, either on Facebook, or on Skype or Google (even a text chat is not possible). It does have a nice feel to it, and is incredibly light, and ofcourse, it is immune to most viruses...guess if you have already a laptop, maybe it will do a second laptop, just to play on, nothing serious...
To get a perspective on exactly how appealing it is, know this: my 15-year old laptop crazy daughter does not want to go anywhere near it.....she prefers a Dell Mini anyday.....
There is a lesson in this somewhere: if you make something beautiful, and if you manage to create hype about it, you can sell anything, even if it is a substandard product, as the Ipad is...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Are we turning into a police state?

Twenty years back, after I had got through my UPSC exam, a policeman came to carry out the verification of my antecedents; a pre-requisite for being employed by the state. Today, twenty years later, I have a Home Ministry card with two stars, entitling me to enter all government buildings, and a salute from the guard, in addition. I issue people OBC certificates, attest marksheets, and the government issues passports on my recommendations..
Not suprisingly, I was astounded when a policeman landed on my doorstep with a long form on saturday, and asked me to fill it up by the next day. Titled "Police Verification Form", this form asks us to paste a photograph of the Head of the Family ( whatever does that mean in the 21st century, when man and wife are equals, I wonder), telephone numbers (including mobile), details about who is living with me, from when on they have been doing so, and  and a thousand other details. Also, despite me being in government quarters(and therefore this whole data already being with the government), how long I have been living there etc...
Is there any legislative sanction for this invasion of privacy? None.There is no law asking any citizen to comply with such privacy invading measures.
Given the record of the Delhi police ( they were instrumental in guiding mobs to Sikh dominated areas in Delhi in 1984), and that of the Gujarat police, any citizen would think twice before entrusting this whole load of information to a bunch of ill-educated, corruption-ridden, brutality-ridden force.
Further, this kind of information is being collected despite there being official denials that such information is collected. In Delhi, every time such information is collected, especially from Muslim dominated areas, there is always an outcry, and the police promptly backtrack.
So, being a law-abiding citizen, I had a sleepless night, wondering what to do. By the next morning, my mind was made up: I would not comply, and fill the form. I would tell the constable, when he turned up, that I would not fill the form. But what if he summoned me to come to the Police Station? Well, I would go, but I would call the newspapers, and exercise my right to protest.
As it happened, he did not turn up on Sunday, the next day, but he turned up on Monday, when I was not there. My wife told him our form was not ready, and the constable told us to fill it up and deposit it with our colony's security guards. That may have been a more tactful reply from wifey: so the confrontation is postponed to one more day....since I am most definitely not going to fill that form.
Eternal Vigilance, the saying goes, is the  pricewe pay  for liberty.
If we are going to turn into a police state as a reaction to terrorism, that cost is too high a price to pay, and I, for one, will oppose it with all my strength....

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Best Thali I've had in my life....

A view of the Thali, served on solid silver: note the lotus-shape of the plate
The Dessert (silver again...)


The Sheesh Mahal , where the food is served

The place setting.....


Having lived in Bombay, Madras and Delhi (I'm using those old names of those cities quite deliberately), and having visited some 20 states of the country, I thought I knew all about Thalis: the "Rice-plates" of Bombay, the "Saapadu" of Tamil Nadu, the Andhra thalis, the Gujarati ones, the Marathi thalis, the Punjabi ones, the "Sino-Ludhianvi' Chinese platters, the 'Tandoori" ones from Nirulas...
Well, I had a revelation: I visited Amber fort along with my brother last month, and I noticed a neglected, deserted walkway, as I left the temple inside the fort. Barefoot, i climbed up the walkway, and viola!! I was in  
an opulent restaurant, modelled on a Rajasthani palace. Quite sceptical, we ordered the vegetarian thali ( the most expensive one of my life, at 1020 rupees a thali), and it turned out to be simply the best Thali I've ever had. Cooked in ghee, hot, with just the right combination of spices, I understood what real Rajasthani food must have tasted like, before vegetable soya oil and commercialism set in.
The Restaurant is called "1135 AD", and here's a review;
Most importantly, despite the clientèle of foreigners, they have not tried to 'spice down' the food, and make it bland, like they do in any Indian place in Delhi or Europe or America....
I guess the descendants of those who cooked for the Royals must be around still, with those skills being handed down from generation to generation. My brother, the reluctant Yankee,  called it the "best 20 dollars" he'd spent in his entire life...

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Search for the Tomb of Delhi's Most Loved Prince....

   
The tomb of Dara Shikoh

 
The graves of Dara, and his brother (s) ?? The little gravestone is whose, I wonder?



At the beginning of the 19th century, when the British attitude to India was full of arrogant contempt for the culture of India and its history, there came something which changed the European view of India: the first translations of the Upanishads from Persian to European languages. Max Mueller and others did the translations from Persian to French and Latin. The Upanishads had been translated into Persian by Prince Dara Shikoh, Shah Jahan's eldest son, between 1654 to 1657. Appropriately enough, the translation was titled "Sirr-i-Akbar", or "The Great Secret", since it had to prised out from the Brahmins of Varanasi. The Prince lost out in the succession battle, and was beheaded by Auragazeb. No prince was loved more in the history of Delhi, (with perhaps the exception of Prince Khusrav, the son of Jahangir). Thus, the Upanishads reached Europe, thanks to the eldest son of Mumtaz Mahal, a Sufi of the highest quality, whose life was spent in intellectual pursuits. What infuriated the Mullahs and Aurangazeb even more was Dara's bold statement, in the preface to the translation, that this was the great book, the "Hidden Book" alluded to the Quran.

A lot of books say that he was buried in an unmarked grave within the Humayun's Tomb complex, but for many of us who are his admirers, the search for his tomb is the Holy Grail of the Mughal Empire.
Well, after years of searching, me and my brother, finally found the grave one rainy morning, on the south-west corner of the platform on which Humayun's tomb stands. The sarcophagus is a marble one, ornately carved with flowers,  and bisected (Dara was beheaded, and his head was sent to Shahjahan by Aurangazeb, so the head could be interred only after  the torso was).

The grave is in a line with two graves, that of Shuja and Murad, the other two brothers who lost out to Aurangazeb, and were killed by him. Notably, the other two graves, also in marble, are decorated with verses from the Quran, unlike Dara's, reflecting the view that he was an apostate, and a crypto-Hindu.
Ofcourse, in a way, these are pseudo-graves, since according to Islamic tradition, the body has to buried at ground level, in contact with the ground, in a  simple cotton shroud (not a coffin), and without any name on the grave. So, with the platform of Humayun's tomb being a good 40 feet above ground level, the actual earthen grave must be exactly below where the marble sarcophagus stands. And since there are no names, in the absence of a DNA test, only oral traditions and legend can point out specific graves within reasonable limits of 
certainty.
And who showed us Dara Shikoh's grave, which guidebooks and historians failed to? A humble sweeper working at the Tomb. The oral tradition must have survived in him. He also told me and my brother that we were the first to ask for the tomb in all the years he had worked there...... Thus, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings shall truth be born....