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Tuesday, 4 January 2022

THE HEIR OF CHANDRANAGARA

WRITER’S NOTE

    After a long time, I have completed a story that has taken around 7 months to complete! Even by my own leisurely standards of writing, that is a long time! I request readers to let me know how you feel about the story. If the feedback is positive, I may write more. If the feedback is critical, I may write even more also (please don’t reduce the criticism for this reason!)! At 6800+ words, this may qualify as a long short story or a short novella!

    When I read this story, I can pick out many points to improve. Still, I feel rather proud of this story. I hope you also like it.

THE HEIR OF CHANDRANAGARA

    The king of Chandranagara, the dark and strong Bhaskara looked worried. His long, bearded face with its narrow eyes and pointed chin showed the concern. His prime minister and friend the priest Govinda noticed it and contemplated on how he could find out what was worrying King Bhaskara. Govinda quickened his pace. "King, it appears that something is troubling you", said Govinda. The king Bhaskara's worried look momentarily disappeared as he looked at his friend. "Yes, it is the situation in the north of Chandranagara. The bandits are causing a lot of trouble again.", replied Bhaskara. Govinda made an expression of irritation.

    At times, bandits hiding in the forests and hills in the north of the kingdom would suddenly swoop down and attack the villages there. They would loot the villages and worse, destroy the crop. By the time the king's army could respond, they would retreat back into the forests on the hills. "They must be caught and an example made of some of them, so that the others learn to respect us.", said Bhaskara firmly. Govinda nodded slowly. A thought struck him. He went ahead of the king and stood in front of him. Surprised, the king halted. It was unusual of the minister to interrupt the path of the king. "My apologies, my king, but I have an idea.", said Govinda.

    Bhaskara looked at the thin, round-faced Govinda. "Go on", said Bhaskara. "As a king, it will take you at least a couple of days to reach the north. Sending somebody else instead, who can reach in good time will be better.", said Govinda. Bhaskara thought for a while. "Yes, if there is somebody who can ride continuously and reach the north, we could catch a few of the bandits, if not all.", agreed Bhaskara. "My only concern is who can ride so quickly. Our Defence Minister is at the southern borders to rebuild the camp there. We need other senior soldiers in the capital for security here. My brother cannot ride that quickly, just like me. I need you to manage the revenue collection here.", continued Bhaskara. Govinda's fair face was beaming as he said: "King, this is where my idea comes in. You can send your brother's son along with several soldiers!" Bhaskara thought a bit. His brother Somashekhar had a son called Vikrama. The young man was eager to learn and enthusiastic. "It is a good idea. Let us check on this with Somashekhara and Vikrama himself", commented Bhaskara.

    They headed to the inner palace grounds. Vikrama was practising his sword fighting moves. He paused, noticing his uncle. The strapping lad with a square face and an authoritative chin was sweating from the exertion of the sword fighting. His eyes looked alive. "Vikrama, will you go to the north to fight the bandits there?", asked Bhaskara directly. "Only if Sister comes along with me.", replied Vikrama immediately. Bhaskara was taken aback. His daughter Parvathi and Vikrama had grown up virtually together. After Bhaskara's wife, the queen Maya had died in a hunting accident a few years ago, it was Somashekhar's wife Nandaa who had taken on the role of the mother in Parvathi's life. It was natural that Vikrama and Parvathi were close, playing games and learning together as if they were brother and sister. Parvathi was older to Vikrama. He called her Sister out of natural respect. Still, Bhaskara was surprised that Vikrama wanted Parvathi to accompany him.

    Chandashekhar looked at Govinda. "What do you think, my prime minister? Should Parvathi join Vikrama?", asked Bhaskara. Govinda's intelligent eyes gleamed as he replied, "Yes, she will learn." Somashekhara had also joined them. His narrow face broke into a smile as he said: "Yes, I feel that the two of them can go together. They should only remember not to race against each other or fight each other, like they do in this ground!" Bhaskara and Govinda burst out laughing! The two cousins Parvathi and Vikrama enjoyed competing against each other and claiming victory in all competitions. The competition was restricted to the ground, though.

    Bhaskara realised that his daughter had stepped out. He looked at the entrance. Standing there was a young girl, with bright eyes and long limbs. "Did you hear us Parvathi? Will you and Vikrama take on the bandits in the north?", asked Bhaskara. Parvathi replied in her calm voice: "Yes father, leave it to us. We will destroy all of them!" "I will be very happy if you can do that!", remarked Bhaskara.

    Bhaskara and Govinda were alone. The king and Govinda were friends since a couple of decades. “Govinda, I will soon make an announcement of a new ruler for Chandranagara.”, said Bhaskara. Govinda was rather surprised. His forehead creased with a look of concern. “My king, what can you mean? You are in the prime of your life. Kings usually appoint heirs well after their fiftieth birthday!”, he remarked. Bhaskara smiled. “Yes, that is correct, Govinda. Since Maya passed away, I have been wondering who would be my successor. The responsibilities of being a king and the day-to-day issues that I have to address have become like a burden to me. I fear that with this attitude, I can make mistakes as a ruler. It would be better if somebody else takes on the day-to-day responsibilities. I will guide the ruler, of course. To me, Vikrama appears to be the most suitable person as a young prince. In the royal family, he is the most capable and eager.”, said Bhaskara. “You could continue at least for a few years, until Vikrama also gains maturity.”, said Govinda. “Yes, I could do that, but it will mean postponing the decision. I have a feeling that the people of our kingdom will be upset once I announce my decision to stand down. I want to give enough time for them to adjust to the new ruler.”, continued Bhaskara. “Also, I can guide my successor for a longer time, giving enough time for my heir to get adjusted to the responsibilities of a ruler.”, said Bhaskara. “On that point, I agree with you, my king.”, concurred Govinda. “Have you told Somashekhara?”, asked Govinda. “Yes, I discussed this topic with him and Nanda. Both have said that the decision was mine to take. Like you, they asked me what was the hurry in declaring an heir so quickly. Like I told you, I informed them that I would like to give adequate time for my successor to settle in.”, replied Bhaskara. Govinda slowly nodded.

    Outside, Parvathi had donned her armour and checked that her bow was strung correctly. She took out the sword from its scabbard and practised a few moves, feeling its weight and balance. Satisfied with it, she called out: “Vikrama, you are slow!” There was an immediate reply from outside, from Vikrama: “Sister, I am already checking the wheels of my chariot!” Parvathi smiled, knowing that Vikrama’s voice had come from the left, while the horse chariots were to the right side! He was trying to fool her! Still, she was silent and headed outwards towards the chariots on the right. “My daughter, do you think 200 soldiers will be enough to manage?”, asked Bhaskara. Parvathi thought for a while. “Speed is important for us. Managing a quick ride with 200 soldiers could be difficult. The bandits are supposed to be around 50. I feel that 100 soldiers should be enough, father.”, replied Parvathi. Bhaskara and Govinda looked at each other. The same thought was in the minds of both friends: Parvathi had made an important point, but entrusting the safety and the lives of the prince and the princess to 100 soldiers was risky. Bhaskara said: “You make a point, Parvathi. I will send 100 soldiers, but they will be the guards for Somashekhara, Nandaa and me. I intend to see both you and Vikrama back, triumphant!”

    “So be it, Father. We will return soon.”, said Parvathi. Vikrama had heard the conversation. “Uncle is being extra careful. We could have gone with the army soldiers rather than his guards”, remarked Vikrama. “Yes, I wanted to protest, but then if he sends 150 or 200 soldiers instead, the purpose of this campaign would not be met.”, said Parvathi. Vikrama nodded.

    “Vikrama, if we have to be successful, we need to be quick. Let us start immediately and aim to reach in a day’s time.’, said Parvathi. Vikrama thought over the idea and said: “I agree, Sister. The bandits loot and disappear into the hills. Having come down from the hills, they will be in the northern villages at least for a couple of days. If we reach within a day, we can surprise them.”

    The two cousins headed towards the chariots even as Vikrama called out to the guards to join them. Preparations for the ride and the battle with the bandits began right away. In a few hours, the team was ready to ride. “Soldiers, do you have your weapons? Have you checked the horses and the feed for them? Speed will be important now, but before we begin, check that your armours, weapons and chariots are good. If the wheels of the chariot require tightening, take the time to do it now. We should not be spending time on these activities once we start.”, said Vikrama in a friendly voice. One of the soldiers asked: “Prince, who is in command?” Vikrama looked surprised and turned to Parvathi as he said: “Sister, you are the older among us. Will you issue orders?” Parvathi’s eyes also became a little worried. She thought for some time before replying: “Until we reach the north, Vikrama will be in charge. Once we get to the villages where the bandits are roaming, I shall be your leader.”

    Govinda frowned and addressed Bhaskara as he said: “Two people in command of a campaign will not work. Shall I guide the princess to let Vikrama assume command completely?” Bhaskara looked at him. “No, let us not interfere. Vikrama is already issuing orders for the soldiers to assemble. I suppose that when they reach the north, there will be some confusion among the soldiers, but let the youngsters sort it out.” “My king, sorting out who will lead even as a battle beckons will not be the right thing to do.”, commented Govinda. “Yes Govinda, but if you or I make a declaration now, the authority of Vikrama and Parvathi will be reduced. Do you recall how Parvathi plays chess? She thinks of two moves in advance! For the battle, she is better suited to lead!”, said Bhaskara.

    Vikrama and Parvathi approached the two of them. “Uncle, we take your leave. We have to leave as soon as possible.”, said Vikrama. Bhaskara nodded and asked: “How will you decide when Parvathi will take over?” It was Parvathi who replied: “As we approach the villages, I shall take up the leader’s flag from Vikrama’s chariot so that the soldiers realise that I have assumed command, my king.” “Good, be watchful and look for informants or suspicious people. The bandits could not have launched this attack without having informants tell them about the villages.”, said Bhaskara.

    Parvathi and Vikrama nodded and set out. It was a ride that the guards of Bhaskara had never experienced. Vikrama asked one senior guard to take the lead. He and Parvathi followed him. Vikrama noticed that after some time, the gap between the lead chariot and his chariot decreased. Once he noticed this, he realised that the pace was slackening. He politely asked the guard to step back and asked another guard to take the lead. In this manner, fresh legs of horses were always in the lead. Vikrama and Parvathi were skilful with their horses to keep pace with the lead consistently.

    The convoy covered the distance to the north quickly. As the light reduced in the evening, Vikrama said: “We will have to camp soon. Sister, I feel that you need to take the leader’s flag in the morning. We will be in the village well before the harsh sunlight of the afternoon sun.” Parvathi nodded and said: “Vikrama, I have been thinking about what my father said: the bandits certainly have informants in the village. This is how they are able to retreat speedily into the forests and hills on the northern side. We should prevent them from doing that.” “Just how do you think we can do that, Sister? Even when they raided other villages earlier, by the time our soldiers fought them from the southern side, they would disappear into the hills in the north.”, remarked Vikrama. “You are right, Vikrama. There are multiple roads leading to the hills from all villages in this area. If our soldiers were waiting in one, they would take the other roads.”, said a thoughtful Parvathi. She continued: “Blocking the roads in the village is not a good idea, since there are alternative roads. The bandits may also know less frequently used roads from the village. Instead, we should wait for them at the base of the foothills.” Vikrama’s eyes widened as he mulled over this sentence. “Sister, reaching the base of the hills will require at least two hours more. It will be well past afternoon by the time we reach.”, said Vikrama. “Not we Vikrama, just you and a few others.”, snapped Parvathi with some irritation. Again, Vikrama looked surprised. “Sister, what do you mean?”, he questioned.

    Parvathi explained: “We need to split up. Even as the first rays of the sun bring light, you need to start for the foothills with half of our soldiers. What I will do is bring the remaining half into the village. Hopefully, we will capture some. If not, we will continue on one of the roads to the hills. It is possible that we may lose the bandits, but they will be spotted by you if you are at the base. Once you see them, play the trumpets and drums. If we get to know which road they take, we shall do so likewise. I will know that you have seen them. We can use different tunes from the trumpets and drums to indicate which road the bandits are coming from. We will go into that road, once we hear from you.” This was a bold plan that Parvathi had made, thought Vikrama. “What happens if the road is far from the road you have taken?”, he asked. “We will take the main road. The other roads have more trees and are wilder. I feel that we will be able to chase them from the main road even if they take one of those roads, though we may be unable to catch them.”, replied Parvathi. “This should work!”, said Vikrama sounding hopeful. He gave the order for the convoy to stop.

    The weary group of soldiers got down from their carts and began removing their armours. The soldiers on guard created a perimeter of safety for the rest. As they began to relax, “Let us decide on the trumpet and drum tunes for the roads from the village.”, said Parvathi to Vikrama. The two of them conversed in low tones and finalised the signals. The moonlight cast a pale shadow on the clearing where the convoy had halted. After eating, the soldiers retired to a peaceful night’s sleep.

    The next morning Vikrama got up as soon as he heard the call of the first birds. Daylight had still to make its appearance. The convoy assembled as Vikrama handed over the leader’s flag to Parvathi. She took it and addressed the soldiers. “Today morning will be an important one for our kingdom. Prince Vikrama shall leave with half of our team to the foothills and await us there. The rest of us will ride swiftly to the village and attempt to capture the bandits alive, as much as possible. If they fight us back, let us give a fitting reply and make them fear our weapons! If they escape, the prince will alert us if he spots them and also indicate by different tunes which route they have taken. We will have to be agile and alert! Let us give the bandits a lesson that they will remember!”, exhorted Parvathi.

    Vikrama took half of the convoy, ensuring that he had some loud trumpets and drums. Parvathi saw him depart and said: “Let us make haste also. Time is of the essence here!” Even as the first traces of dawn made its appearance, the convoy started dismantling the camp that had been set up for the night.

    “Let us be as silent as we can be until we near the village. Once we near it, I want a loud noise so that the bandits get the feeling that there is a huge convoy chasing them! Let us all blow our conch shells and drums as loud as possible so that the sound itself terrifies the bandits!”, said Parvathi.

    The convoy approached the village. The rays of the sun illuminated the fields and the houses. Parvathi looked at the signs of destruction caused by the bandits: the crop had been destroyed, a fence was razed and there were ashes with dying embers. She felt a sense of rage at the wanton destruction. She shouted loudly: “Let our drums and conch shells herald the strength of our weapons!”

    The sound of many conch shells and loud drum beats blew out, shattering the peaceful morning. The convoy of soldiers sped through to the main road in the village. Parvathi kept an eye out to see any retreating bandits. On the north western side of the village near some trees she saw a group of men quickly mount horses that had been roaming free there. “There, near the trees: they are planning to flee!”, she exclaimed. “Let us keep to the main road for now. Let us be together!”, commanded Parvathi. The convoy saw several bandits urging their horses forward. They took a narrow road that diverged away from the north of the village, which gradually veered westwards.

    “Slow down, I want to confirm the road that they have taken”, said Parvathi to her convoy. After confirming that the bandits were indeed on the north western road, Parvathi recalled the tune that she and Vikrama had decided. “Soldiers, I want you to play this particular tune”, she guided and told them the tune. As they approached the northern side of the village, it was less crowded. “Louder”, said Parvathi. “Let us reach the hills as soon as possible on this road itself”, she continued. The convoy sped on the main road towards the hills.

    Vikrama had reached the foothills later than he had expected. He had decided to stay as close to the forests as possible to avoid any informants who could inform the bandits. That had slowed him down. When he saw the foothills at some distance, he hoped that Parvathi had not been too fast. He led his convoy with some greater haste forward.

    He reached the foothills shortly and ascended it along with his convoy with caution and some fear: if there were bandits on the hill, it would be a tough battle. As they ascended, he looked for signs of habitation: fire, ashes or disturbance in the greenery of the hills. Thankfully, there were none. “We are safe here. Let us find rocks behind which we can hide. Keep the horses in the among the trees itself.”, he commanded.

    The convoy waited for the signal. Vikrama noticed how the eagerness of the soldiers dwindled as the morning passed. He silently moved among them to keep their alertness up. His own alertness regained his edge as he moved from rock to rock. One of the soldiers made a gesture to alert him and Vikrama closed his eyes to listen closely. There was no mistaking it: drums and trumpets played one of the tunes that Parvathi and he had decided. This meant that the bandits were coming via the north western road from the village.

    Vikrama positioned his soldiers behind rocks and trees near the north western road. Peering from the top of a high rock, he saw two clouds of dust on two roads: one on the north western road from the villages where the bandits sped towards him, which looked closer and the other on the main road that was further away. “Sister will need some time to catch up. We need to make the most of the surprise element.”, he thought. He directed his convoy to keep their weapons ready by gestures and then put a finger to his lips to indicate the need for silence.

    As the sound of the bandits’ horses became louder and approached the hill, Vikrama reached for his conch to give the signal for attack. A few seconds later, the loud cry of the conch shell sounded from the rocks on the hill. The bandits rushing towards the hills and the forests on the hills were visibly confused. Some of their horses neighed as their reins were yanked by the bandits. Others halted gradually.

    A flurry of arrows suddenly rained from the rocks and boulders on the hills on the bandits! Totally unprepared and already surprised from the attack by the convoy of soldiers behind them, the bandits were in a state of disarray. Unable to see who was attacking them initially, panic began to enter their ranks.

    Vikrama sensed their panic. To take full advantage, he shouted out to his convoy of soldiers: “Let us capture these bandits for our King!” Seeing the armed soldiers, the bandits became fearful. Most of them headed towards smaller roads into the hills. A few remained to fight. Vikrama had to make a quick decision: “Soldiers, stay together. Aim your arrows at the bandits who flee. Let us aim to capture these bandits alive who are fighting here.” Accordingly, some of the soldiers aimed arrows at the bandits fleeing in the side roads. They heard the cries of pain from the bandits as the arrows dispatched by them pierced their bodies.

    The bandits who had remained hid behind the trees in the foothills. The bandits and the soldiers faced each other in a battle of hide and seek. “This can take too much time”, thought Vikrama. Approaching the hill from the main road, Parvathi had the same thought. “If Vikrama has launched an attack from the hills, the bandits must be in the trees at the foothills, retreating back on the north western road. I wonder if we can scare them into approaching the main road.”, she mused. She thought quickly and came to a decision. “Soldiers, I want those of you with our drums and trumpets to quickly ride across to the north western road and create a loud noise. Remember, if the bandits ride to attack, hide! You will be outnumbered, I believe. The purpose of our noise will be to make them take the main road. Hopefully, Vikrama and I can round them up now after that!”, she instructed.

    A few soldiers with drums and trumpets sped on fast horses on a narrow trail towards the north western road, appearing on the road chasing the retreating bandits. Parvathi organised the remaining convoy in a combat mode, ready to face any bandits who would come from the north western road. From the hill, Vikrama saw that a group of soldiers had left Parvathi’s convoy. “What is Sister doing? The bandits can easily fight against this small group. Why is she splitting up a small force?”, he wondered. He watched the development closely.

    As the smaller group of soldiers approached the north western road, he saw them stop and then suddenly, the air was filled with the sound of loud drum beats and trumpets. Vikrama observed that the bandits became less active. As the loudness of the music increased, he saw that the bandits were discussing. Suddenly, he saw that a few horses of the bandits neighed and then he saw the bandits heading towards the main road. “I see what Sister is doing! She is getting the bandits to come to her. Now we must also aim to reach the main road!”, thought Vikrama.

    “Soldiers, let us go down the main road immediately”, he commanded. The convoy complied and quickly got to the main road leading from the village to the hill. The bandits were taking a narrow trail from the north western road to the main road. They had to come in single file, one behind the other. As they approached the main road, Parvathi blew her conch to guide her soldiers and also to inform Vikrama that a battle was about to begin!

    Vikrama heard the conch shell and urged his convoy to quicken up even further, blowing his own conch shell. The bewildered bandits simply did not know what was going on! On one hand, they heard loud music behind them signifying soldiers who seemed ready to fight them. On the other hand, they faced a group of armed soldiers who had pursued them from the village. From the hill, they saw that there were more soldiers advancing quickly. Unable to decide what they should do, the battle ended as an anti-climax. Some of the bandits disappeared into the forest and took less trodden trails leading around the hill. Other bandits fought the soldiers but suffered so heavily in retaliation that they gave up. Others gave up their weapons and surrendered.

    Vikrama saw that the battle was over. He reached across to Parvathi. Her eyes were bright with the excitement and thrill of battle, but he could see that she was already ordering the soldiers to bind the captured bandits securely. “Tie the bandits securely. They should not escape!”, said Parvathi. Addressing Vikrama, she said: “Well Vikrama, that was a good morning’s work!”

    The cousins combined their convoys and stopped in the village. “I shall inform the king about the destruction caused by the bandits. I am sure the king will make sure that the village recovers quickly. You can see that the bandits have been captured. You can rest easy now, knowing that they will be punished severely.”, said Parvathi to the villagers. The villagers bowed in gratitude. Out of respect for the village elders, Parvathi, Vikrama and the captain of the convoy also bowed.

    Halting for some time to prepare for their journey back, the convoy set out in the late afternoon back to Chandranagara. The ride back was considerably slower. Parvathi stopped the convoy for the night midway, ensuring that there were guards for the custody of the bandits. The next morning, Vikrama led the convoy as it entered Chandranagara. There was a lot of curiosity from the citizens there! The people wanted to see for themselves the bandits who had destroyed the village in the north. The convoy progressed slowly and reached the palace.

    Bhaskara saw Vikrama lead the convoy into the palace doors. He felt a sense of satisfaction. “Do you see how Vikrama leads the way, Govinda? In spite of his young age, he has returned successfully with all members of the convoy. I am sure he will be a worthy heir for Chandranagara.”, told Bhaskara to Govinda. Govinda nodded thoughtfully. “I will announce about the successor for Chandranagara soon.”, continued Bhaskara.

    King Bhaskara summoned the chronicler of the King’s court. “Organise a session of the court and announce that attendance is mandatory.”, declared Bhaskara to the chronicler. The chronicler bowed and stepped away. “I will ask Vikrama and Parvathi to describe the campaign before I announce my decision.”, said Bhaskara to Govinda. “I want to confirm that Chandranagara has the right ruler who can lead the kingdom well.” “My king, what you need to consider is that the ruler is smart and can take quick decisions.”, advised Govinda. Bhaskara nodded his agreement.

    There was a murmur in the court which only increased as the ministers and administrators gathered. Bhaskara waited until all of them were assembled. “I have called for this session to announce a major decision: I plan to announce the next ruler of Chandranagara today!”, declared Bhaskara. A commotion resulted! Incredulous shouts of “What?” and “Why?” could be heard. Bhaskara raised his hand to restore order, even as Govinda pleaded for the court to be silent. “Since Shantingara’s queen passed away in a hunting accident years ago, I have spent time strengthening our security and building market places, roads and gardens. Whenever I see the gardens, I wish to spend time there, remembering the queen. However, the responsibility of running the kingdom gives me little time to do so. Considering that the next generation is now ready to take on the responsibility, I want to hand it over and give the successor the time to settle in for a long reign.”, stated Bhaskara. Again, there was a commotion in the court. “Seeing that the next generation of rulers has been involved in capturing the bandits in the north, let us hear how this was achieved. Following the description, I shall announce my decision on the successor for Shantingara.”, said Bhaskara.

    The eyes of the court followed Bhaskara’s glance as he looked towards Parvathi and Vikrama. There was surprise in the young eyes of both Vikrama and Parvathi. Bhaskara noted the surprise and the fact that the extra attention was disconcerting the youngsters. To put them at their ease, he said: “Let us hear about how our princess and prince were able to capture the bandits in their own words. It is a credit to them that there has been no loss of life of our guards and soldiers. It is also creditable that they have been able to accomplish this job so quickly and so efficiently. I will ask Parvathi to summarise what happened and then Vikrama.”

    Even as Bhaskara was speaking, Parvathi whispered to Vikrama: “Vikrama, we will have to make grand speeches. Do you recall all the advice that our priest Govinda gave us about how to make an impressive speech?” “Sister, you know that I used to hate it whenever he scolded us.”, responded Vikrama!

    When Bhaskara asked Parvathi to summarise, she smiled quickly at Vikrama when he made this remark and then stood up to address the court. In a clear voice she said: “Honoured ministers and administrators, I shall summarise how we captured the bandits. We set out in the morning at a fast pace. Our plan was to split up in the morning: Vikrama reached the foothills while I entered the village. I pursued the bandits who went through the north western road to the hills. We were on the main road, running parallel to them. We had set tunes for each road the previous evening. I instructed the guards with me to play the tune for the north western road. Vikrama arranged the remaining guards with him to attack from the hills on to the north western road. Our plan worked. The bandits did not expect the attack from the foothills as well as from behind them!”

    “Vikrama’s attack scattered the bandits into the trees in the north western road. So, I asked a few of our guards to make a loud noise and pursue them on the north western road. This confused the bandits who thought that there were many soldiers coming behind them on that road also! They went to the main road, where we were able to capture most of them.”, concluded Parvathi.

    Bhaskara’s face which showed pride initially now looked a little worried. Govinda wondered what was playing on his mind. Bhaskara said: “Vikrama, let us hear from you.” Vikrama looked at Parvathi who gave him a look of encouragement. Vikrama began: “Respected audience, princess Parvathi has described what happened. I can only add what happened at the foothills. At the foothills, it was mainly a period of waiting until I heard the tune we had selected for the north western road from the village. I marshalled the soldiers to attack the bandits coming from that road. Once they were sufficiently close, all of us attacked from the foothills. The attack succeeded completely! Some of the bandits retreated back on the same road. That is when princess Parvathi sent some of our soldiers to face them. Now they were stuck! From the foothills, the soldiers with me pursued them. From the north western road ahead of them, they could see that princess Parvathi’s soldiers advanced on them. Surrounded on both sides, they surrendered to us.”

    Bhaskara nodded and he asked: “There could not have been too may soldiers on that road, isn’t it?” Both Parvathi and Vikrama were startled on hearing this question. The king’s awareness of the situation that they had faced was an unexpected one. “This is the voice of experience speaking.”, thought Parvathi as she replied: “Yes, which is why I asked them to make a lot of noise to appear as if they were a bigger convoy. That worked well for us!”

    Bhaskara’s body tensed. Govinda who was watching him closely realised that Bhaskara was under pressure. “What’s happening here? My king appears stressed. I should give him some time to recover.”, thought Govinda. “While the king prepares to finalise his announcement, let us celebrate the defeat of the bandits and ask the captain of the convoy to describe the campaign also.”, said Govinda. Bhaskara shot a glance of relief at Govinda. He recognised that Govinda was doing this to give him a few minutes to recover. The captain of the convoy bowed and narrated his version, which confirmed what Parvathi and Vikrama had narrated. Even as he neared the end of the narration, Bhaskara nodded slightly to Govinda. Govinda understood that this was a sign to say that Bhaskara was ready to make the announcement.

    After the captain concluded, Govinda said: “My king, on behalf of the court, I request you to announce your successor.” The king stood up from his throne and advanced: “This is an unusual move. It is unheard of in the history of our kingdom that a king willingly gives up his throne. I have explained my reasons: the loss of the queen has affected me. I want to spend some time recalling her deeds. Some of us in the court will feel that this is a selfish decision. I have no argument against this comment: I myself have struggled to judge whether this is the right decision to take. One major factor for me is that I want to see for myself how Chandranagara will be ruled. This is possible only if I stand aside. The other factor is that this is not completely unknown. Haven’t we heard about how Bheeshma managed Hastinapura when Dhritharashtra and Pandu were children? Now I am no Bheeshma, but I do believe that it will be good for younger rulers of the kingdom to have a senior member to advise and guide them.”

    Bhaskara continued: “Now the question or decision to be made is who will be the successor. There are two alternatives: my daughter, the princess Parvathi and second, my nephew, the prince Vikrama. It has always been a male who is chosen to rule the kingdom simply because of the greater strength. Therefore, Vikrama is the logical choice as the successor.”

    A commotion broke out and shouts of “Victory to prince Vikrama” could be heard in the court. Bhaskara silenced the court by raising his hand. At the same time, he looked at Vikrama and Parvathi. He saw that the cousins were looking at each other, bewildered. “Ruling a kingdom requires physical strength for sure. However, there are other capabilities required for a leader. It is my assessment that these capabilities are present in princess Parvathi. Let it be announced tomorrow that princess Parvathi will be the next ruler of Chandranagara!”, declared Bhaskara with conviction.

    For a few seconds, there was silence. Then shouts of “Victory to princess Parvathi” were heard. Bhaskara looked around the court and saw surprise and uneasiness on many faces. This was what he had expected, irrespective of what the decision was. The difference was that the number of such faces with surprise was more. Bhaskara addressed the court chronicler: “Let the announcement be made across the kingdom that Chandranagara’s next ruler shall be prince Parvathi in accordance with the wishes of the king. Let it also be declared that I shall guide her along with the other ministers and administrators. Does anybody in this court have any questions or comments?” Govinda spoke up: “My king, I cannot challenge your decision. However, did you consider how our people will react to a woman ruling our kingdom?” Bhaskara looked at him approvingly: “I appreciate the question, Govinda. The truth is that I do not know the answer. It is quite possible that there may be a rebellion or unrest due to my decision. My reply is this: it is possible that there will be discontent in the kingdom due to my decision. If I had not taken this decision, I am sure that the opportunity for progress and development would have been lesser! I stand by my decision. If there are questions or protests from the people, I shall answer them.” The session ended soon.

    Parvathi went to her father and said: “My king, you have placed a great responsibility on me.” Bhaskara smiled and placed a hand on her shoulder and said: “Yes, but I know that you will handle it well. Understand your new responsibilities well in the next few weeks and months.”

    Parvathi went from Bhaskara to Vikrama. “Vikrama, what a strange and important day this has been. I am overwhelmed by this decision.”, she said. Vikrama looked pleased. “Sister, you deserve it.”, said Vikrama. “You may be feeling disappointed Vikrama. The king must have looked at how we have captured the bandits to make this decision. That capture was possible because we set such a fast pace in reaching the village. That was entirely your doing. I am unsure why the king felt I was more deserving!”, said Parvathi. “Yes, I did set a fast pace, but it was you who suggested that we should split. You also asked the soldiers from the main road to make a lot of noise when they took the north western road. The king must have considered these facts.”

    Bhaskara and Govinda were discussing the same topic. Govinda said: “My king, the decision you have made is a crucial one. You have changed your mind. Are you sure about this decision? Are you sure that it will be taken up well by our citizens? It is my opinion that Vikrama was probably the better choice.” Bhaskara replied: “I cannot make decisions based on how they are perceived by the people, Govinda. You know this as well as I do. Having a woman rule the kingdom is certainly a huge change, but then so is the fact that a king is stepping down voluntarily. I want Chandranagara to be ruled by a person who can take intelligent decisions. If that person is a woman, then so be it!”

    Govinda said: “My king, there are enemies both outside and inside. You know that Chandranagara has troublesome neighbours. There are also people ready to start rebellions within our kingdom for the smallest of reasons. With a woman leading the kingdom, we will need to be more alert.” Bhaskara smiled and replied: “Govinda, I agree with you. Our enemies whether they are within our kingdom or outside will think that this is the right opportunity to strike. It may be to our advantage if we are prepared and our enemies think that we are weak. Now the key point is that we should not be weak! Here, I am confident that Parvathi will ensure that we are vigilant with the guidance of people like you and me.”

    “I thought that prince Vikrama would have been your successor, my king.”, remarked Govinda. “Vikrama did set a quick pace to reach the bandits and attacked the bandits, but who made the decision to split the convoy? Who decided that the troops should go to the north western road as well? It was princess Parvathi who thought about these ideas. Govinda, it is you who say that strength alone is not the criterion for determining the true test of leadership. Along with strength, the ruler of the kingdom needs to have sharp intelligence, courage, a willingness to take risks, make decisions quickly and the ability to think two steps ahead of a normal person. In the campaign to capture the bandits, we could see these attributes displayed by both our prince Vikrama and princess Parvathi. The ability to take smart decisions quickly was shown by princess Parvathi. Hearing both Parvathi and Vikram describe the campaign, I feel that princess Parvathi is the more suitable successor.”, explained Bhaskara.

  “My king, you have made an important decision. I have been your priest and your friend. I am sure you have considered all points before making this decision. Let us see how the future unfolds.”, said Govinda. Smiling, the two allies walked together into the palace rooms.

Sunday, 1 November 2020

SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC

We continue to be in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. India experienced lockdowns with some relaxations in the time interval between 24-Mar-2020 and 31-May-2020. It seemed unbelievable that a country could be shut down for this duration, but all of us have lived through it. In the lockdown, a close friend suggested that I should write a blog post about the experience. I did think about writing about how our lives have changed, but since I was unduly optimistic, I thought that normalcy would return in three months or so ! I thought I could write looking back at the previous three months or so ! How wrong I was ! It has been now more than seven months since the first lockdown was announced and even now, the country is dealing with the pandemic, which slowly appears to be heading towards a semblance of control. The festival season is in progress now. I sincerely hope that there is no upward spike or second wave after this season. I see that people have become lax in using the mask in public at least.
Therefore, the latest message from our Prime Minister on 23-Oct-2020 was timely. While some of the data and trends show that the situation may be improving, carelessness by us, the people will result in the number of cases rising. All of us probably know of at least one close relative or friend or acquaintance who has been tested positive Covid-19 and gone through trying times. Unfortunately, there are people that we have lost as well. My prayers are with the people who have lost loved ones and with the departed souls. The toll of the pandemic has been too heavy.
In that context, the PM's request to continue to use masks correctly, follow practice of hand washing with soap and water and adopt adequate physical distancing is important. Since such a long duration of restrictions has elapsed, a sense of fatigue and complacency is beginning to set in. "Covid-19 is just like any other 'flu.", "Indians have better resistance than people in the west." and other similar opinions are prevalent among shopkeepers and people that I interact with when I venture out of home. I feel that this is complacency setting in among us. It takes just one pre-symptomatic person or one asymptomatic person to cough or talk out loud and possibly infect many others if we do not use the three safeguards that our PM has requested us to use. The chances of the number of cases rising will be higher if we do not follow our precautions. My wife and I do not step out of our houses often. Whenever we do, when we return, the soap and water at home and hand washing is a routine that has become a default behaviour now.
I hope that we continue to be vigilant and follow the request of our PM. The Covid-19 situation continues to be serious, though there is improvement when compared to September.
What has become clear to me is that my original optimistic estimate that this was only a matter of three months was woefully incorrect ! In August, I was hopeful that we would have a vaccine by November. Today is now 01-Nov-2020 and it appears that the vaccine will be ready only in the new year. I will take my friend's suggestion and write about some thoughts about the Covid-19 situation in this blog post. The rest of this blog post presents some thoughts about life during COVID-19 pandemic.

RESURFACING OF TALENTS

During the lockdown, what I observed was that hidden or suppressed talents of friends and colleagues resurfaced. A couple of people shared pictures of dishes that they had prepared. I am envious : about the only thing that I can make which I feel brave enough to share with others is a decent cup of tea (and even that may be questioned by some !) ! Some others showed wonderful drawings and sketches. Still others shared their poetry and writing skills. It was a delight to see the artistic skills of people I know. My respect for all of these people with diverse talents has increased. 
I could whistle Hindi movie tunes decently once upon a time. In the routine of work, I had forgotten about it. During the lockdown, I rediscovered this talent of mine. I recorded some of my whistled tunes and sent it to groups in my instant messaging app and to my wife's brother. His elder son found a good diversion in guessing these Kannada movie tunes ! Between him and me, it became a game over the app during the lockdown. He plays the keyboard and would record some tunes for my wife and me to guess. I would whistle a tune for him to guess ! This happened over the instant messaging app. I rediscovered the pleasure of reading, completing a book by Plato, one on the stories associated with Lord Krishna and re-reading tales of O. Henry and other books. One evening during the lockdown, I read and recorded an O. Henry story and shared it on the instant messaging app. I felt glad when a friend said that his daughter liked listening to the story. A lot of O. Henry's stories are wonderful for the surprise ending that they contain and for the dry humour in his description of American cities and American life.
My wife showed her creativity by re-using (the word nowadays seems to be "re-purposing" !) coconut shells as pots for plants. In one of the coconut shells, she showed me coriander, money plant and a plant with cute looking leaves !
A friend showed his well-known dancing skills, including his son to partner him ! Another friend demonstrated his hidden talent of drawing and also his photographic skills by taking pictures of flowers and a small bird that visited his balcony !
While the pandemic situation is unfortunate, the silver lining is that it has enabled such talents of people to resurface ! Another positive development during the lockdown was that pollution had reduced as well in India, Italy and the world in general.

WHAT I HAVE WATCHED

Considering that my movement has been restricted these past several months, I have watched a few movies and shows which I shall briefly discuss below. My review of the South Korean movie "Parasite" is available as a separate blog post at https://fewidlethoughts.blogspot.com/2020/04/my-impressions-on-korean-movie-parasite.html. Most of the shows are on an Over The Top (OTT) video streaming service, which I shall not name, but which can be guessed from the shows. Some are from a video sharing app which does not need to be named !

Family Man

"Family Man" stars Manoj Bajpai as an intelligence agent whose family does not know his real occupation. He is involved in a major terrorist operation. The production values of the series are excellent. Manoj Bajpai's acting as the agent who leads a double life is good. He shows the challenge of leading two lives well. The story builds up well across the episodes and ends at a thrilling point. The action kept me hooked. 

Picard

As a fan of "Star Trek", I waited for this series with eagerness. It shows an aging Jean-Luc Picard discover that his android friend Data has a daughter, whose existence is threatened. Picard aims to help her with the help of some friends and colleagues, including one from "Star Trek: Voyager". Since I know the characters in "Star Trek: The Next Generation", this series presented a progression. For a newbie, the series may not be as interesting. The acting of Sir Patrick Stewart as the old, angry and ailing Jean-Luc Picard is the highlight of this series for me.
Humble Politician Nograj
A Radio Jockey (RJ) in Bengaluru called Danish Sait is famous for his voice imitations of people. In the Kannada movie "Humble Politician Nograj" he plays Nograj, a politician whose only objective is to secure his seat and power ! The movie is watchable mainly for the way in which Danish acts as Nograj ! It also brings out how a sincere politician (Nograj's opponent in the elections) is left behind in the world of today's politics.

French Biriyani

RJ Danish Sait has also starred in another Kannada movie "French Biriyani" as an auto driver. I enjoyed this movie for the story and the hamming of some of its actors. As a Frenchman who loses his passport in Bengaluru, Sal Yusuf is capable. I liked the way in which Rangayana Raghu utters his dialogues in his characteristic style. He brings the touch of humour. Danish Sait is good as the auto rickshaw driver who sympathises with his French customer. The script is good as well. Overall, I like this movie, particularly for the song "The Bengaluru Song". I will discuss this separately below.

Guru Shishyaru

When lockdown was announced, there were a lot of memes going around about how we were being asked to watch TV to save the world ! Of course, over time we realised that staying at home for days on end can get to be boring also ! Still, in those initial days, the general feeling was that this was a good way to sort of reset oneself.
This was the time when I watched a Kannada clip, which captured the sense of the time well. The 1.5 minutes in the beginning of the video clip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwb0g1_4viw describes what would have been the routine for priests inclined to take it easy and reset themselves ! In the lockdown phase, the clip was viral among groups that know Kannada movies. When I watched the clip, it made me smile. I told my wife that I wanted to watch the movie, which I had not seen. Over two days, my mother, my wife and I watched Guru Shishyaru starring Vishunvardhan and Dwarkish, relishing the light hearted comedy in it ! The story is of rishis or sages cursed to be born as foolish disciples of a senior rishi. The movie also has a famous song "Doddavarella jaanaralla" which continues to be meaningful even today. Loosely translated, it means "Those older in age are not wiser" !

Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi

The music and lyrics in Hindi and Kannada movies from the '50s to the '70s are remembered even today for their melody and meaningfulness. While doing yoga, I have often listened to music from the movie "Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi" starring the Ganguly brothers Ashok Kumar, Anoop Kumar and Kishore Kumar. As a family, we watched this black and white classic. The highlight is the music, but the romance between Kishore Kumar and Madhubala is something that can be savoured even today. It is unusual to see how Ashok Kumar's boxing skills are commended by his brothers in the movie ! I did not expect that an actor like Ashok Kumar can be considered as a role model for fighing in a movie ! It is interesting to see that some brands seen in the garage of the three brothers in the movie continue to exist even today ! I feel that the sight of a relatively empty Marine Drive in Mumbai was good to see as well.

Paataal Lok

I suppose that it is rare to see a web series that touches upon different topics like the poorer side of New Delhi; the politics in a policeman's life; the high society world of media persons, business persons and socialites; rural Punjab with its caste discrimination and feudal lords and places of Uttar Pradesh where bandits run their fiefdoms. I suppose that it is even rarer to see that such a series has a story which concludes, giving a sense of closure to the viewer ! "Paatal Lok" is one such series. The characters include Hathi Singh, a policeman who considers his job in one of the poorer areas to be equivalent to "Paatal Lok" or the netherworld in Hindu mythology; his assistant a Muslim whom he respects; a star journalist who is struggling to maintain his TV channel, married to a woman who has mental health issues; his understudy another junior journalist principled and determined to get ahead in her career and politicians to whom people are only pawns in the power game of politics. The people and the situations are combined well to create a taut drama. The performances are good, but it is the story that captivated me, which uses Hindu mythology subtly. This is one series that I appreciate.

Panchayat

Whether it is "The Family Man" or "Paatal Lok", the violence and the language often make certain parts unviewable for a family audience. In that respect the web series "Panchayat" is far better. Except for one episode where questionable language is the  main part of it, the series is good fun. "Panchayat" is like the Hindi TV serials "Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi" and "Buniyaad" which depict middle class India.
The story is of an aspiring MBA student who is advised by his friend to take up a rural post of secretary in a village panchayat for the work experience. The young man used to life in the city goes to the village and gradually adjusts to life in the village Phulera. The sarpanch is a woman, but it is her husband who runs the show. The secretary gets to know the assistant of the Panchayat, the sarpanch's husband and life in Phulera better. The storylines in the episodes are simple. The hierarchy associated with chairs, the importance of salary and job, the manner in which government initiatives actually get translated on the ground, in the villages are all shown well in "Panchayat". I would strongly recommend this series.

Bandish Bandits

I have seen musicals of Hollywood, but did not imagine that there could be a musical web series made in India. "Bandish Bandits" is one such series. Hindustani classical music is an integral part of "Bandish Bandits". The story is mainly about a young boy named Radhe who is the heir to the family tradition of Hindustani classical music. He falls in love with Tamanna, a pop star who comes to Jodhpur to rediscover her muse. The two team up with Radhe wearing a mask so that his grandfather will not be offended that he has sold out to commercial interests. As Radhe's strict grandfather who demands the highest standards of discipline from students of his gharana of music, Naseeruddin Shah looks natural. Ritwik Bhowmik as Radhe reminded me a lot of the character Nanhe in the Hindi TV serial "Hum Log".
The drama in the series begins when a challenger known to Radhe's grandfather reappears to contest him for title of "sangeet samrat" given by the ruler of Jodhpur. Since Radhe's grandfather is ill, Radhe takes up the challenge instead of him. Radhe is supported admirably by his uncle first and later, an unexpected replacement guru whose style is different from his strict grandfather. Tamanna has her own demons to fight: she gets a feeling of self-doubt over her own abilities. Their love story progresses rapidly after the first couple of episodes. Radhe's friend Kabir plays a key role in supporting him also, as does Tamanna's manager Arghya. The characters are developed well.
The highlight of the series is its music, though. Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy have combined to create amazing music with a classical base. I liked all the songs. Even the fusion songs are remarkably creative.
This is a series worth watching - and listening.

The Secret is in their Eyes

I searched on the Web for good international movies. The Spanish movie "The Secret in their Eyes" filmed in Argentina showed up. I watched it in bits and pieces. To me, a good movie is often about a good story and how it is shown on the screen. In that respect, "The Secret in their Eyes" qualifies wonderfully. At one level, it is a detective story. At the same time, the movie is also about love, friendship and politics. To me, the only downside to this movie is the nudity, which was unnecessary. NOTE: THIS IS GENUINELY AN "ADULTS" ONLY MOVIE, due to the nudity. To experience how a movie can narrate a good story using its actors and the skill of the director. It deserves the Best Foreign Language Film award which it won at the Oscars in 2010.

Rama Rama Re

I listened to a song from the Kannada movie "Rama Rama Re" called "Kelu Krishna". The song made me curious : why (or how) did Krishna come in a movie related to Rama ?! One Sunday, my mother, my wife and I watched the movie. This is the most recent movie that I have watched completely at one stretch. A convict sentenced to be hanged for bombing and killing policemen escapes from jail. A massive manhunt is launched, but he evades them. Eventually, he picks up a ride in a jeep with a retired policeman, though he does not know that ! They are joined by a couple who have eloped and are running away from parents who do not want them marrying outside their community. The young man recognises the convict from a newspaper cutting and believes that his future is made as he can claim half of the reward for nabbing the convict, along with the retired policeman. The groom makes some funny remarks about the situation, imagining that he has already got the money !
On the way, they also find an old lady whose daughter-in-law is experiencing labour pains. The convict and the retired policeman move the daughter-in-law to the canopy of the jeep. A baby is born even as the father of the baby arrives. The old lady requests the retired policeman to drop her and her daughter-in-law back home and stay the night with them.
The gratitude of the old lady and her homely wisdom to them and the eloping couple is a highlight of the movie. Her simple lessons struck a chord in me. The eloping couple decide to make their own life without handing over the convict. The respect conveyed by the old lady and her son serves to change the convict's heart. The old lady's simple wisdom moved me. 
As the policeman and the convict set off again, they pick up a drama troupe who are on their way to enact the Mahabharata. This is when "Kelu Krishna" is sung, which the convict listens. The blind actor playing Arjuna and the summary of the Bhagwad Geeta that happens during the journey affect the convict deeply. After the troupe is dropped off, the policeman hands over the steering wheel to the convict in a gesture of trust. When he wakes up, he finds that the convict has driven the jeep to the police station he escaped from ! The convict surrenders. This is the story, told with humour and a lot of sensitivity. I liked the movie a lot, discovering a less popular gem among Kannada movies.

WHAT I HAVE LISTENED

Before the lockdown started, I used the bus to commute to work. My companions in the bus are mostly younger and with a lot of varied interests. On one weekend, I started a "never ending playlist" where each of us could suggest songs to watch or listen to, using an instant messaging app on the smartphone. It was received with enthusiasm the day I started it. I listened to a few songs that I had forgotten about and some new ones that I liked.
That sent me back to music during lockdown and Work from Home. Since I typically listen to music while doing my stretches and yoga, I have heard some good songs. Here are a few of my recommendations:
* Songs from the Kannada movie "Sarkari Hi. Pra. Shaale Kasaragodu" available at https://gaana.com/album/sarkari-hi-pra-shaale-kasaragdou has good music in all its songs, composed by Vasuki Vaibhav. I liked "Dadda song" and "He Shaarade" in particular.
* The year has seen too many stars and celebrities pass away like Rishi Kapoor, Irrfan Khan and many others. Of them, SP Balasubrahmanyam (SPB) is one person who will always be remembered in the Kannada film industry. I listened to several of his Kannada hits when he passed away. At the end of it, a song that stands out for me is "Kelade nimageega" from the movie Geetha available at https://gaana.com/song/kelade-nimageega for listening. I have returned to this song often. There are certain songs that create a picture, much like poetry itself.
Among Hindi movie songs, "Ik haseena thi" from "Karz" picturised on Rishi Kapoor and sung by Kishore Kumar and Asha Bhosle is one such song, available at https://gaana.com/song/ek-hasina-thi-ek-diwana-tha for listening. The guitar in the song mesmerises, but more than that the tale narrated by the song captivates. The mode of using a play to depict a murder and view the guilt of the accused was introduced in Shakespeare's play "Hamlet". The song "Ik haseena thi" only changed the play to a song ! The music, the guitar and the emotion in Kishore Kumar's voice all make this song memorable.
In the same manner, "Kelade nimageega" narrates a tale of lovers in two villages Sampige and Mallige separated by a river. They are separated by age old differences among the two villages just like the lovers are separated in Shakespeare's other classic play Romeo and Juliet. The story of love in the middle of a hostile environment requires a talented singer to bring out the emotions. On one hand, the environment of the two villages, the river and a rope bridge in the village has to be described. On the other, the hidden meetings of the lovers has to be conveyed. The rage of the girl's uncle has to be brought out in the song also. It requires talent and practice to bring out all the emotions that this tale deserves. The music by Ilayaraja in this song is complemented by the singing of SPB. SPB excels in this song.
* It is not that I have been listening only to Kannada songs. When one evening seemed a little longer, I listened to "Yeh safar bahut hai kateen magar" from the Hindi movie, sung by Sivaji Chaterjee to music composed by R D Burman available at https://gaana.com/song/yeh-safar-1 was good to listen to. It is a song of hope.
* The video https://youtu.be/LbIkrZSIG9A shows a lovely song that has a message to convey as well. The way in which lines from Kanakadasa's poetry have been adapted for this hip-hop song is amazing. Though I have listened to this song several times, it is only now that that I have watched the video ! The hip-hop beat is combined well with uplifting lyrics, including lines from Kanakadasa's philosophical poetry. I discovered this song on my music streaming app using its "You may like" feature. This is one case where I indeed did like and enjoy the music !
* I find that even after listening to the Kannada rap song "The Bengaluru Song" sung by Aditi Sagar for the movie "French Biriyani" several times, I continue to enjoy it even today. Certain songs capture the spirit of the city. In the Hindi movie "Kahaani", the song "Shotti bolchi" sung by Usha Uthup is one such song. Usha Uthup brings out the paradoxical contrasts of Kolkata in this song, which has influences of jazz also. Similarly, Aditi Sagar conveys the behaviour of the auto drivers, the humps on the road, the traffic jam and the possiblity of making it big in "The Bengaluru Song". In three minutes, Aditi Sagar captures the chaos of Bengaluru. The music video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mH7aOwbGo78 for viewing.

OTHER THOUGHTS

I will now move to other topics or thoughts about COVID-19.
To begin with, I have remarked to a few people about how lucky I have been. A couple of days before the lockdown started, the SIM card of my smartphone abruptly stopped working. This happened on a weekend evening. There were few shops that were open that night. There was a Janata (voluntary) curfew on Sunday, 22-Mar-2020. I realised that I would have to use Monday to get a new SIM card. On Monday, essential services were open. My wife and I went to our mobile operator's nearest outlet. Luckily, I got my SIM card replaced. From 24-Mar-2020, the country went through a complete lockdown, though essential services were open. I am just glad that I had my smartphone working before the stricter lockdown was imposed ! Getting a pass to move in my car could have been tricky ! Also, working from home without the SIM card of my smartphone would have slowed me down, particularly during power disruptions.
Work from home requires adjustment. There are some things that we take for granted at work, like the chair we use and the network. Since I used to take the bus to work, I used to close my laptop and walk to the bus stop. At home, there is no such clear "end of day" time. If work or an unplanned meeting extends, the hours stretch. Before I know it, I would have been sitting for too long in front of the laptop ! The power disruptions which turn my modem off were another unfamiliar aspect during the lockdown. By now, I have got used to the routine of using my smartphone as a WiFi hotspot if there is no power. Interruptions due to somebody at the door are now understood by professionals as also reprimands made at home inadvertently heard by others since the "Mute" button in the call was not activated !
The lesson is that we have to get used to working from home. It used to be different earlier, when working from home was an option, which meant that we also had time for personal work. Now, work and personal work often clash at the same time, but this is the new normal. We also need to develop the discipline of mentally preparing to say "Yes, I am done with working for the day". At home, this is easier said than done. We need to cultivate that habit and also learn to take adequate breaks during work. To some extent, I miss the tea and coffee breaks at work, which represented a brief time where some of us could meet up and talk of different topics, including those outside work. Virtual calls are a reasonably good substitute, but they are not the same as physically meeting and talking.
What is also emphasised is the nature of personal work. When it comes to official, professional work, I can take a stand and say "Yes, I am done for the day." If there are unfinished activities, for most of them, it would wait until the next day. This is not so with personal work. I cannot say: "No, let me postpone the dishwashing". The consequence of that could be no food on the next day, since there are no containers to store it once the food is cooked ! I knew about this of course, but being involved in some of these tasks on a daily basis makes me appreciate more how much effort it takes to keep a home going ! The never ending, relentless nature of these chores can sometimes become a drudgery. This is where division of labour at home makes sense. I guess that most families have defined rules by now about who does what - and when !
After seven months of work from home, I went to work because there was some work which required my presence there. The previous evening, I took a look at my formal leather shoes. Unused for seven months, the shoes had a fine layer of dust. I took longer to polish it and make it gleam. This is a routine that sort of primed me for the next day, which was a new experience. I went in my car since the bus was unavailable. The traffic was what it used to be before the lockdown. On some of the main roads in the city, I noticed that the road divider is raised to a height of almost 4 or 5 feet, apparently to deter pedestrians and motorists from crossing or turning wherever they liked. I wonder if the investment is worth it.
What surprised me was the vast emptiness in the parking lot in my office. Used to seeing it full, seeing prime parking slots vacant at a relatively later time made me wonder for a moment if it was a holiday ! The temperature scanning process and the preventive signboards all over were a novelty too. In the wing where I sit, there was only one other person sitting about 50m from me. Unless I kept moving about in my chair, the lights would turn off ! There was one seat assigned for people to sit in each cubicle. There were hand sanitizers located at many points and foot operated door openers for most of the doors.
After lunch, I walked to the bus stop. The Technology Park was largely empty. It seemed that office boys and security personnel were more than the people actually working ! I met a friend and a few colleagues, but otherwise, the office showed me many chairs and seats unoccupied. Lunch and tea breaks were also different. Only person was expected to sit per table. Instead of the wide variety of vendors who offered food, there was one vendor, a person I have seen for the last 20 years and who I know to some extent, because a friend knows him well. I spoke with him and asked him how things were. His reply was just to show me the vacant cafeteria in front of us ! That day was an unusual experience for me: on one hand, there was the excitement that I had finally "gone to work" after seven months ; on the other hand was the realisation that the COVID-19 pandemic had changed life for professionals in Information Technology to a large extent and that perhaps, there are bigger changes looming ahead for us.
Probably, one of these changes is the usage of apps and online transactions for people who can use technology developed for that purpose. I know that I have shopped for groceries, medicine and clothes online, which I had not done earlier. I helped out in using an app for telehealth and got to see how it can replace a visit to the physician.
       One of the joys during the lockdown was the silence and peacefulness in Bengaluru. I paid more attention to the plants tended mostly by my wife and my mother. My wife and I like seeing pretty flowers. A sight that pleased both of us was the day nine jersey lily flowers blossomed at almost the same time !  Similarly, the yellow tabebuia looked brilliant on our terrace one Sunday morning. These flowers (and others !) brought a lot of joy and refreshed us to a great extent.

These yellow tabebuia flowers brightened up things - both literally and metaphorically !

 
This one lily with its colour that looks as if it painted itself looks breathtaking. On one day, there were nine such flowers awaiting us !

My relatives and friends have spoken about how video classes online has become the new normal also. Children are learning online even as teachers are coming to grips with technology that enables online education. To me, the surprise is that tests and examinations are conducted online also !
Could this mean that eventually, hospitals and schools will be redesigned drastically? Will the online consulting and education boon lead to a re-imagining of the healthcare and education system? These are questions that only time will answer.
For now, the immediate common concern is still the COVID-19 pandemic for all of us. How could such an event occur? Here, I would like to quote from an extremely insightful commentary by ethologist Dame Jane Goodall available at https://news.mongabay.com/2020/05/jane-goodall-covid-19-is-a-product-of-our-unhealthy-relationship-with-animals-and-the-environment/ for reference. From her essay: ".... we need to connect our brains with our hearts and appropriately use our indigenous knowledge, science and innovative technologies to make wiser decisions about people, animals and our shared environment. .... My hope is that an understanding of how the world should be, along with the realization that it is our disrespect of the natural world that has led to the current pandemic, will encourage businesses and governments to put more resources into developing clean, renewable energy, alleviate poverty and help people find alternative ways of making a living that do not involve the exploitation of nature and animals."
We need to heed her voice. The concept of sustainable development should be a guiding north star not just for big corporations, but also for individuals like me. Meanwhile, while COVID-19 pandemic persists, we need to continue wearing masks, practice hand-washing and maintain physical distancing as much as possible.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

MY IMPRESSIONS ON THE KOREAN MOVIE "PARASITE"


Being a lazy person, my Sunday afternoon nap is almost a sacred ritual for me ! https://fewidlethoughts.blogspot.com/2018/01/two-good-movies.html?m=1 is one instance when a movie affected my nap ! The movie was Satyajit Ray's "Apur Sansar". On Sunday, 05-Apr-2020, another instance occured when I missed my afternoon nap: on that day, my wife and I watched "Parasite", the Korean movie which was awarded the "Best Picture" Academy Award for 2019. We started streaming it at around 2:30 p.m. The next time I turned my neck to check the time in the clock behind me was more than an hour later, well past my usual nap time ! "Do you want to take a break?", I asked my wife. "No, let us watch the movie.", was her reply. So, we watched the movie at a stretch !

The movie is superb ! It deserves the "Best Picture" award.

The story is as follows: A young adult Ki-woo who stays in a basement in the poorer section of Seoul gets a job as an English tutor, thanks to his friend who is going abroad. His student is a girl from the highest echelon of Seoul society. Ki-woo has poor parents and an enterprising sister. He tells his student's mother that he knows an art teacher who could help her troubled son. His sister prepares well and manages to get the art teacher's role with a high salary.

The family conspires so that the driver and housekeeper are eventually replaced by the father and the mother. The entire family is employed at the rich family !

One evening, the rich family heads out for a camping trip. The poor family celebrate in the luxurious house of the rich owner. They get an unexpected visitor: the former housekeeper who says she has forgotten something in the house. While the rest of the family hides, the wife lets in her predecessor, with some trepidation.

Revealing anything more will ruin the movie. So I conclude by saying: The situation becomes more complicated when the rich family returns early due to heavy rain. Events progress quickly culminating in murders.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parasite_(2019_film) is one link that reveals the entire story, but if there is plan to watch the movie, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND NOT TO READ IT. Instead, I would recommend reading https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/10/movies/parasite-review.html which is a review of the movie that I like.

My impressions on the movie "Parasite" are as follows:
  • I begin with a pertinent observation that my wife made. "Where are the emotions in this movie?!", she asked me after the movie ended. It is a valid point: despite the comedy, multiple murders and finally tragedy, the display of emotions is extremely restrained. Unlike Bollywood movies where we see emotions being displayed over the top at times, in "Parasite", the display of emotions is subdued. I suppose this may be a cultural aspect: this was my first Korean movie. Probably, the way in which emotions are brought out in Korean cinema is simply different from what we see in Indian cinema.
  • In the South Asian sub-continent, India and Pakistan are two countries which are always traditional foes. Over the years, the shared history between the two countries leads to an uneasy peace at best and has led to war in the worst case. "Parasite" shows us that the relationship between South and North Korea is somewhat similar. Despite the advancement of South Korea, the threat of North Korea is in at least some minds of South Korea. It goes to the extent that underground bunkers were built by some South Koreans. This is seen in the movie. It is only now that I realise that North and South Korea ; the former East and West Germany and of course India and Pakistan have a lot in common due to their shared histories.
  • My friend stayed in Seoul for two years and has shown me photographs of his life there. I have read that broadband speed is the highest in South Korea. So I know that South Korea is one of the most advanced nations in Asia, if not the world. What "Parasite" shows is that this does not mean that there is no poverty in the country. Just as Mumbai has its Dharavi or Bengaluru has its pockets of poverty like Kalasipalyam, Seoul also has two extreme classes of people: the affluent and the poor. "Parasite" provides good insight into the lives of both classes. In particular, the trying conditions of the boy's family are brought out with humour in the first half and with sensitivity in the second, when a flood occurs due to heavy rain inundating the basement houses of the poor.
  • "Parasite" pays a tribute to the Boy Scout movement. Morse code plays an important role in the movie.
  • The characters in the movie have their traits. Ki-woo's father becomes the driver, replacing the previous driver by deceit but he asks later whether the previous driver would have found a new job. The character of Ki-woo's sister shows a lot of spunk as she creates a counterfeit educational certificate for her brother and also becomes an art therapist by looking up concepts on the Internet ! All characters have their personalities well defined in "Parasite".
  • Cinema is a medium meant primary for the senses of vision and hearing. It is rare that the sense of smell can be demonstrated in a movie and even rarer when it becomes a trigger for key events. "Parasite" is one movie where this happens. The rich owner of the house associates a certain smell with his new driver. When the rich owner literally turns his nose due to the odour at a crucial point in the movie, it leads to an unfortunate event. I could never imagine that the sense of smell can become such a vital part of a movie. The director and story writer deserve a lot of credit for this achievement.
  • It is unfair to categorise "Parasite" as a tragi-comedy or a black comedy. I have read reviews that term "Parasite" as such. I think that this is an unjust categorisation. "Parasite" is just a wonderful, sensitive movie. If I have to categorise it, I would call it "Drama" rather than "Black comedy" or "tragi-comedy".

There are many movies that are defined by their stories. Among the ones that I have watched, the stories in "Lucia", the Kannada movie (my blog post https://fewidlethoughts.blogspot.com/2013/09/review-of-lucia-kannada-movie.html describes my impressions on it) and "Kahaani" the Hindi thriller movie (https://fewidlethoughts.blogspot.com/2012/08/review-of-znmd-and-kahaani.html is my blog post on it) are ones where the story is the key element. "Parasite" is another such movie, to be appreciated for the skill with which the director Bong Joon-ho has narrated a superb tale !

Sunday, 15 March 2020

MY FORGOTTEN HOBBY

On Sunday, 01-Mar-2020, my wife did a round of spring cleaning in our room. One of the many items that we discarded were several files. These files contained hundreds of newspaper article cuttings, which I had cut from newspapers like "The Times of India" (ToI) and The Hindu. The rest of this blog post is me looking back at my forgotten hobby of collecting newspaper articles.

I collected these articles from 1986 to around 2007. I had organised these articles into various categories like:

  • Science, Engineering and Technology: From '86 itself, I have been fascinated by advances in science and technology. Future gazing also interests me.


The very first news article in my collection numbered as "1" shows how medicine would be in 2000. The article was written in 1986. Some of the predictions are prescient : telemedicine and advances in genetics are hot topics even now, in 2020 ! I stopped numbering of my articles after some time.



The tender notice in the back of one of my earliest numbered articles shows the date of 26-May-1986. So, my collection started in early 1986 !

The human body and human health have fascinated me. In Hamlet's quote "What a piece of work is man!", I saw a sense of wonder. I also liked the lover of logic and symmetry that the fictional detective Hercule Poirot displayed. So this is also seen here.

  • Health and Medicine: I grandly named a file related to health as "What a piece of work is man!". The line is from William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet". It contains articles related to health and physiology.
  • Culture and History: ToI made an uncommon word popular in 1988, when the newspaper celebrated its 150th anniversary: the word was "sesquicentennial", which is the adjective form of "150th" ! ToI published interesting articles to commemorate its sesquicentennial anniversary, some of which I have cut.
  • Trivia: The annual Filmfare awards and Academy Awards (Oscars) form a part of this category.
  • Serials: These are repeating columns or cartoons. "Animaloons" from the newspaper "The Hindu", cut in the '90s is an example. One of my favourites is the reporting of the Second World War from "The Hindu". The war started in 1939. To commemorate it's golden anniversary, "The Hindu" published its reports from 50 years ago, in 1989. The headlines stimulated my interest in history.

My wife playfully calls me "Robot" because I am a creature of routine and follow it with irritating precision at times ! I suppose the seeds for this tendency were set first by my genes, i.e. it is hereditary to a large extent. I think that my natural tendency to be robotic was reinforced by my hobby !

Collecting newspaper articles requires a routine to be followed, a good amount of  commitment and an equally good amount of dedication. The process I followed was as follows:

  • To begin with, I had to identify newspaper articles worth filing. When I read the newspaper, I would be thinking "Is this article a 'keeper' ?" If yes, the next step would be to mentally decide which category it would fall into. This was usually straight forward, but the categories of Trivia and Culture overlapped at times. In philosophical terms, the Sanskrit word "viveka" is used as a term to distinguish the permanent from the temporary. In a very, very small way, I feel that my reading and deciding which one to keep was also "viveka" (discernment or discrimination) in action !
  • On Saturdays or Sundays, I would take an old shaving razor blade (I remember that in Mumbai this was the "Topaz" brand !) and cut the articles. This could be messy, since the dark newsprint could get on to my fingers at times.
  • I took sheets of brown paper and cut them into long rectangular strips of the same size. This would be often a drudgery during the process. At the end of it, when I ended up with a stack of brown regularly sized strips, the result was well worth the effort.
  • The articles had to be pasted on to the strips. Sometimes, it would be one article per strip if the article was big. Sometimes, there would be two or even three.
  • If cutting was a messy task, pasting was even messier ! I remember using "Joker" gum paste in Mumbai in the '80s. In Bengaluru, I have used "Camel" gum. Whichever brand it was, after pasting ten or fifteen articles, my hands and fingers would have dried glue on them.
  • Next, I folded the brown strips with the newspaper cuttings in half to punch holes for filing.
  • Once the filing was done, the process was almost complete. I say "almost" because the final step was to wash and rub my hands to remove the newsprint and the glue !

As I became busy during work, this hobby slowly became a process too long for me to continue. The emergence of the Internet and the World Wide Web was another factor. I found myself spending time online more and more in the 2000s. Somewhere around 2007, I abandoned my hobby.

The Filmfare awards for 2007 are probably among the last articles that I cut. This is part of the "Trivia" category and physical file. The Academy awards for the year are also seen here.

How did I abandon my hobby ? Over the years, I continued to read, but most of the reading became online rather than newspaper articles. A reflection of the categories of newspaper articles could be seen in my browser bookmarks ! I had a folder for PCs, a folder for work related content, etc. ! Slowly, my interest in cutting and then filing newspaper articles dwindled. Around 2007, it completely died. Looking at the physical files in March 2020 unearthed by my wife, I find myself wondering : "Did I really do all of this ?!" In 2013, I took to Twitter. The information on my interests that I get via Twitter is almost addictive. I share hyperlinks discovered by Twitter on WhatsApp with groups who I feel share the common interests. For example, I share cricket related information with my college friends and a group of friends and colleagues who I know are interested in cricket. On the other hand, articles related to technology are shared with cousins and friends at work, etc. So I suppose that my old hobby of collection has transformed into a new hobby of sharing off beat articles and hyperlinks with (possibly !) interested people !

I find that my hobby of collecting newspaper articles has taught me some important lessons:

  • Curiosity: To begin with, in the '80s and '90s as a student (mostly !), I read the newspaper with a voracious appetite to see which articles I could cut at the end of the week. Sadly, the current news did not interest me. The big headlines in page 1 are missing in my collection. On the other hand, the less popular articles and news reports on advances in medicine and technology did interest me. My curiosity towards technology and medicine was stimulated by my hobby.
  • Routine: As my wife says, this is a double edged sword. On one hand, a routine can trap a person into repetitive tasks that add no value. On the other hand, following a routine enables the setting up of a means that would enable a person to achieve his/ her goals.
  • Interest: Due to the newspaper articles, I have become interested in topics that I would not have been that interested earlier. I was not interested in spirituality, since I was too young for such "heavy" topics. I started reading "The Speaking Tree" in ToI, a column on spiritual topics.  I discovered that I quite liked some insights that it offered. I started reading it on a regular basis. There are other interests that have been stimulated also by my hobby, like an interest in history and technology. Even in this age of forwards in social media apps like WhatsApp, one has to filter between the blatantly false and the possibly real. I am unsure if I am always successful, but I have developed a healthy (some may say "unhealthy" !) skepticism of forwarded videos and text messages. My blog post https://fewidlethoughts.blogspot.com/2017/03/my-review-of-name-of-rose-by-umberto-eco.html reiterates the importance of being skeptical in the age of social media and forwarded messages. I have disabled automatic video downloads in WhatsApp currently !

Does this mean that there was a deep purpose to my hobby?! Not quite: I started it simply because reading interested me. I have a habit of picking on one quote on Monday mornings when the working week begins. I began writing this blog post on 02-Mar-2020. So, for the working week beginning 09-Mar-2020, I selected this quote: ".... no hobby should either seek or need rational justification. To wish to do it is reason enough. ....", by conservationist Aldo Leopold. The source of the quote is on page 28 in http://images.library.wisc.edu/AldoLeopold/EFacs/ALWritings/ALRoundRiver/reference/aldoleopold.alroundriver.i0003.pdf. The chapter is worth reading to understand why hobbies are important.

I completely agree with the sentiments expressed in Aldo Leopold's quote ! A hobby should be something that one just likes to do, whatever it may be: singing, drawing, photography, collecting postage stamps or collecting newspaper articles ! If there are advantages derived from the hobby, they would be incidental. The primary driver for hobbies is the pleasure the process gives.

In my case, reading the articles initially followed by the process of cutting, pasting and filing was time consuming. At times, it felt like a drudgery but at the end of the day when the articles were pasted and filed, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and achievement ! My advice to people reading this blog post would be to discover or rediscover one activity that gives one pleasure, irrespective of how it is going to help you. In my experience, it invariably will help, though one may not immediately see how !

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