Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Buddha Is Everywhere, Except Perhaps For Our Hearts


We live in the glorious times of the Buddha.
No, I have not lost my mind. Neither do I have a time machine that can take me to the 6th century BC. I write today because everywhere I look I see representations of the Buddha—tokens and tokenisms. Literally everywhere!
A little while ago I was sitting with a neighbour in her posh apartment and lo and behold, there was the Buddha right behind me! Printed on a silk cushion cover. I complimented her on her aesthetic choice, at which she exclaimed—"The Buddha never goes out of fashion, you see. Look at his eyes, so seductive—you can drown in them!" What a bemusing choice of adjectives for a spiritual great known for his serenity and renunciation of worldly pleasures. I'm sure if he'd been around to witness this exchange, he'd have been beyond appalled. The next moment, she tossed another Buddhism-themed cushion at my lap, saying, "Be comfortable! I have many more in various designs." I nodded politely, curbing the temptation to tell her: "Yes, I know it is fashionable to have Buddha cushion covers, but don't you want him and his teachings in your life as well?"
The Buddha has been one of the most influential spiritual leaders to ever walk this earth. But now our culture seems to have appropriated him in an entirely material sense.
There is no doubt that the Buddha has been one of the most influential philosophical and spiritual leaders to ever walk this earth. But right now, our culture seems to have appropriated him in an entirely material sense. Blame it on the style industry, mystical monasteries or the austere good looks of disciplined monks, but somewhere along the way Gautama Buddha has become a fashion statement, an on-trend motif.
I have lost count of the Buddha figurines I have spotted on assorted terrace gardens, placed appealingly amidst white stone pebbles and small waterfalls. Or, the serene statuettes carved in costly white marble, put in the middle of artificial ponds with floating plastic water lilies. What a serene sight for guests to behold! Light some scented candles around and it is the perfect ornamentation for a party. Who gives two hoots about what he stood for anyway? After the party, maybe.
A friend of mine has displayed a series of paintings of his tranquil face done in various abstract forms, running all across the corridor to her bedroom. Every picture lit under a different lamp shade. Another has got her kitchen window done with a glass painting of Buddhist symbology. And then there is someone who uses blinds printed with thousands of tiny Buddhas.
Ask them about their devotion and they speak of the heavenly aesthetic of the Buddha and Buddhist motifs.
I am yet to see an exhibition, a handicraft mela or a mall's home furniture showroom that doesn't feature multiple Buddhist icons.
I am yet to see an exhibition, a handicraft mela or a mall's home furniture showroom that doesn't feature multiple Buddhist icons. How ironical that this is the same Gautama Buddha, the man who once walked in flesh and blood, who surrendered worldly pleasures to lead a life of utter simplicity.
Long years ago, his disciples travelled across the world to spread his teachings and mark his presence in every possible household. The message has indeed reached and how! Today the Buddha is ubiquitous—you'll see him on handmade-paper bags, expensive T-shirts, bed covers, keychains, earrings, tattoos, mobile cases... the list is endless.
Recently, when I visited Gangtok's crowded M.G. main market, I stood mesmerised along with hundreds of other tourists, lost in the beauty of Buddhist tokens stunningly displayed by the street vendors. Everybody was eager to take back little miniatures as gifts for friends and family. While a Delhi gentleman standing next to me asked for colourful prayer flag for his car's back window, another from Bangalore demanded 50 such pieces for his newly opened Café. A lady thought the collection of flags would make for a good toran on the entrance door while another grabbed a piece for her office work station. Each prayer flag had a long prayer written in Pali, but no one asked what it meant. The aesthetic mattered, not the message.
Some token collectors contend that Buddhist images and artefacts imbue serenity to a space, but how many of them practice his teachings?
Some token collectors contend that Buddhist images and artefacts imbue serenity to a space, but how many of them practice his teachings? They are often people who are governed by anger or enslaved to their repository of wealth, friends, jobs and pleasures.
I've been gifted many, many Buddha keepsakes over the years, but the most precious of all the artefacts I have are books on the life of the great thinker, carefully placed in my library. Sometimes when I feel frayed, I return to its flagged pages, anecdotes, life lessons and quotes.
If for just one day the Buddha found his due place in our lives—beyond tokenism, aesthetics and as a fashion statement—there would be so much more peace, tranquillity and forgiveness all around. Remember what he endorsed, "There is no path to happiness. Happiness is the path"!
                                           .     .      .
[This article was originally posted on The Huffington Post on 25/09/2017 8:46 AM IST]

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Bittersweet Monsoon

                                                                    [Pic courtesy: Wikipedia Commons]

There were times when thinking of monsoon brought before us imagery of joy. Of dark clouds overshadowing the sky, intermittent break of thunder claps and benevolent downpour wetting not only the land underneath, but also soaking us deep within for relief from fierce summer. One couldn’t resist from running into the rains to get drenched from head to toe and never missed opportunities to ditch boring raincoats or umbrellas.
As young girls on bicycles commuting to school under heavy monsoon downpours, we laughed at the disappointed faces of people trapped inside cars, buses or under shades, torn between the longing to get wet in rain and preventing their expensive ensembles from getting color washed. Those days, when deliberately jumping into puddles of water on roadsides, making paper boats, taking a rain shower or watching every green leaf swirl with joy, ran synonymous with a day of bountiful monsoon.
The neighboring muddy field suddenly got transformed into a football court, with boys of all age, sorts and sizes displaying their machismo while playing a sport which looked absolutely picture perfect in rain. Little children ran around the field’s periphery, chasing frogs and imitating their hop, while their concerned parents kept calling out for them to return home.
However, that was years ago.
Of late, the imagery of Monsoon has slightly changed.
One gets to know that rains have arrived in neighboring cities only once the social media timeline begins to get flooded with messages of traffic jams. Photos of hapless office goers commuting to their workplace in two hours for a distance they usually cover in twenty minutes, begins to do rounds on facebook. Angry emojis, distressed pictures of people caught in ruthless jamming of vehicles and even videos of verbal spats arising in a traffic going berserk, conveniently replaces happy memoirs of a rainy day.
In a place like Delhi which makes headlines for being eleventh most polluted city in the world, monsoon comes like an impending horror. A little drizzle and the half patched roads and pot holes at every second road turn, wait to swell into mini lakes. What looks like a small and neat puddle to splash into, might actually be a deep manhole that may gulp down an entire human body into city’s sewer drainage running into Yamuna.
One no longer drives to office but river rafts the vehicle through flooding roads. Obviously, the walk from parking to the building is also no less than swimming through a kiddie pool. While the hygiene conscious or high on maintenance colleagues of mine make faces of wrath at plight of dirty water around, the adventurous ones take to the game of filming garbage floating around and click ruthless pictures of the filth. Sharing on social media, however, would be an option contingent on the benevolence of the network provider, who most likely would have taken a day off on the occasion of rainy day.
One midnight some years ago, I not only got stranded in office for six hours but also lost connection with my family who finally swam their way through dark streets to rescue me.
I’ve come to believe that if there’s anything that can make life messier in an unmanageable monsoon, it is poor mobile connectivity.
Just in case it rains torrentially for over 24 hours, consider taking a boat ride in place of vehicles, local trains or metros to prevent getting marooned at one place. Besides, it’ll also give a feeling of riding a Gondola in Venice! How interesting is that! Drop the idea of taking a bath at home and instead, enjoy a natural waterfall under drainage pipes from buildings. This also encourages water conservation. How about snorkeling for goodies that got drowned in deep floods or roping in your friends to play Waboba in office?!
Disappointed with the rains, are you? Not everyone is. The few species that really make merry of the season are tiny monsters of Darwin who know how to ‘survive as the fittest’ in rainy froth and compost, littering in open streets – Mosquitoes, moths, bugs, viruses and flies!
Sometimes I wonder, why do we even call it raining ‘cats and dogs’ when it actually rains ‘mosquitoes and flies’ in monsoon?
Nevertheless, if there is anything that could bring a rainy day to a perfect closure, it is Single Malt or chilled Scotch, flavoured in liqueur aroma. If that doesn’t work, try our desi cup of hot ginger tea with some steaming homemade onion pakoras. A perfect panacea for relief from headache of traffic jams and fatigue of water sports we have had throughout the day. Thankfully, some nice things about Monsoon never change!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

मुझे सजाओगे?



तुमने क्या सोचा था?
कि सिल्क पर जरदोज़ी का काम की हुई
साड़ी का तोहफा देकर खुश कर दोगे मुझे?
हो जाती मैं...
पर तुमने साड़ी के साथ ही मुझे लाज का एक कपड़ा जो पहना दिया -
ढ़क के रखो
ऊपर से थोड़ा सा और नीचे से वो टांग भी
घर के भेद, तुम्हारी अम्मा के ताने, तुम्हारी बुरी आदते,
यारों के भद्दे मज़ाक, हमारी तू तू मैं मैं, मेरी शिकायते,
सब ढ़क लूँ मैं, छः फीट साड़ी के पीछे?

तुमने क्या सोचा था?
कि मीना जड़ी सोने कि खनकती चूड़ियाँ और मोती जड़े चांदी के छ्नकते झांझर
ब्याह में पहनाकर कर खुश कर दोगे मुझे?
हो जाती मैं
पर तुमने चूड़ियों और झांझर के साथ ही मुझे ताउम्र बेड़ियों में जकड़ लिया -
वहाँ मत जाना, उधर मत घूमना, इतनी देर घर से बाहर कैसे रह गयी तुम?
 किस्से पूछ कर गयी थी
और वो कमीना जिसे दोस्त बोलती हो, सोचा भी कैसे कि वो तुम्हें घर छोड़ेगा?
मायके में भी कोई इतने दिन रहता है भला?
उड़ना चाहती हो तो उड़ो पर याद रखना
एक बार जो तुम्हारे पाँव डगमगाए तो मेरी ये चूड़ियों ही संभालेगी, संभल के चलो।
उफ! बांध लूँ मैं खुद को तुम्हारी दहलीज़ कि चूड़ी से?

तुमने क्या सोचा था?
कि Loreal के मेकअप, Lakme कि lipstick और
Chanel के perfume कि खुशनुमा किट से खुश कर दोगे मुझे?
हो जाती मैं
पर तुमने मेकअप का एक ऐसा mask पहना दिया जो मेरा था ही नहीं -
नयी बहू के सिर पर पल्लू अच्छा दिखता है,
बड़ो के पैर छुआ करो फिट चाहे भले ही वो कपटता कि चलती फिरती दुकान क्यों न हों
ठीक है पड़ोस का लाला रोज़ पी कर गुंडागर्दी करता है,
तुमसे तो नहीं की न? फिर चुप बैठो!
अरे, कभी कभार गुस्सा आ जाता है तुम पर,
तो ऐसा क्या हो गया?
आँखों कि सूजन पर काजल के एक मोटी लकीर,
गाल पर पड़े उँगलियों के निशान पे गुलाबी blush
सिर की खरोच के किनारे पर लाल बिंदी,
और अंदर के घाव पे वक़्त का moisturizer लगाना ही तो है,
और हाँ, अपने होठो पर न सही, ज़ुबान पर lipstick लगाना मत भूलना
ताकि नाप तौल कर public में मुंह खोल सको
पर यार कुछ भी कहो, बहुत सुंदर दिखती हो तुम।
तुम्हें लगा, मुझे Mrs India सा महसूस होता है तुम्हारे दिये मेकअप के पीछे?

चार साल की थी जब सफ़ेद घोड़े पर सवार, वीर राजकुमार की कहानी सुनी थी
ना ना! वुश्वास थोड़े ही ना किया था!
मैं किसी कहानी के किताब के दबे अक्षरो में पिरोया पात्र थोड़े ही हूँ?
जीवित हूँ,
सोचती हूँ,
महसूस करती हूँ,
ज़िरह करती हूँ,
प्यार करती हूँ...
पर लगता है तुमने भी वो ही कहानी पढ़ी थी?
और हास परिहास में खुद को सफ़ेद घोड़े पर सवार वीर राजकुमार समझ बैठे
और मुझे?
साड़ी, चूड़ियो, झांझर, रंग और इत्र में लिपटी एक राजकुमारी
जो ठीक किताब की तरह चुप छाप पन्नो के बीच दबी रहती है
जो चाहे, जब चाहे खोल के पढे और ना पसंद आए तो, धपाक! Chapter close!

पर मैं तो बोलूँगी,
तब तक बोलूँगी जब तक तुम्हें ये ना दिखे
की मेरी साड़ी एक छह फीट का लबादा नहीं,
वो नरमाहट भरी छाह हैं जिसमे हर रात तुम अपना धिक्कार छिपाते हो,
वो ममता है जो तुम्हारे सात पुश्तो के घाव पर रेशम का मरहम लगती है,
द्रौपदी का वो तूफान है जो जब बंटता है, तो महाभारत के युद्ध का यालगार होता है,
जब फटता है, तो हर करुणावती का एक भाई तैयार होता है,
और जब कमर पे बांधता है, तो झाँसी के किले की 22 फीट की दीवार लांघ एक कोमलाङी का बिगुल बजता है
ये साड़ी नहीं क्षैतिज का वो चादर है
जो अगर फट पड़ा, तो सैलाब बरसागा!!

देखो, मैं तो बोलूँगी,
तब तक बोलूँगी जब तक तुम्हें ये ना दिखे
कि मेरी चूड़ी काँच की कमजोर कड़ियाँ नहीं,
वो खनक है जिसने तुम्हारे आँगन के हर कोने की मनहूसियन में रोजाना अपना मधुर संगीत छेड़ती है,
वो गोल चक्रवात है जिसकी दुनिया तुम्हारे प्रेम के इर्द गिर्द घूमती है,
पर जब टूटती है तो जीवन से जुड़ी तुम्हारी एक डोर भी टूट सी जातो है।
कि मेरी lipstick होठों पर जमा लाल रंग का वो पैबंद नहीं,
वो सुर्ख चुंबन हैं, जो तुम्हारी काली कड़वी ज़ुबान पर बैठ उसे रंगीन कर देती है,
वो हस्ताक्षर हैं जो रात दर रात तुम्हारे शर्ट पर जीवन संगिनी होने की मीठी पहचान जड़ जाती है
पर जब बिखर पड़ता है तो खौलते खून के उबाल से नासूर छाले छोड़ जाता है।
कि तराशे काँच में रखा महंगा perfume, बोतल में बंद हमारे सपने नहीं
वो खुशनुमा हवा का झोंका है जो तुम्हारी रूह में मेरा प्यार और अस्तित्व, दोनों को घोलते है
और हमारे छोटे से घरोंदे को यादों की गमक से सराबोर कर देते हैं
पर जब बोतल से उड़ निकलते हैं, तो तुम्हारी दुनिया से सब कीमती लम्हे अपने साथ हमेशा के लिए ले जाते हैं।


दरअसल, मुझे खुश करना बहुत आसान है।
ज़्यादा भारी नहीं पड़ेगा तुम्हारी पॉकेट को,
बस कुछ छोटा मोटा समान जो इज्ज़त की दुकान में बेमोल मिलेगा,
साड़ी की जगह, उड़ने के लिए थोड़ा सा आसमान
चूड़ियों की जगह, तुम्हारे हाथ का सहारा
झाँझर की जगह, नन्हें सपनों के पहिये
Lipstick की जगह, मुझे ना बोलने का हक़
और इत्र की जगह, तुम्हारे भरोसे की गमक


क्यों, तो क्या सोचा तुमने, मुझे कैसे सजाओगे?
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